Drones to revolutionise medical supply in rural areas in Africa

“The technology itself is innovative in the sense that it really addresses the challenges that we have in Tanzania.” – Makange Mramba, Dar Teknohama Business Incubator

The third lab of tomorrow innovation workshop in 2016 created many success stories that are worth being told. This is one of them: “Deliver Future”, revolutionary medicine delivery by drone in rural areas around Lake Victoria.

On April 11, 2019, the short film “Deliver Future” won the German Public Relations Society’s PR award in the category “Moving image”. The award honours the use of audio visuals in a way that triggers emotion and delivers authenticity. The film agency We Make Them Wonder illustrated the first phase of the pilot project by film - accompanying the entire process, from loading the drone with medication, to traveling to Ukerewe and returning to the hospital. Recordings of the drone flying over Lake Victoria and numerous interviews on site show the positive contribution that collaboration between the private sector and development cooperation can make. Watch the winning short film here:

Deliver Future: Delivering vital medicines by drone

The island district Ukerewe is a remote rural area in the region of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. Due to poor or non-existing infrastructure, last-mile logistics, which are the last steps of transportation to the end user, pose an enormous challenge and only allow limited medical care. Emergency medical care and the supply of short-lived medicine are slow and difficult as overland transportation takes more than six hours for the 240 kilometres route from the nearest hospital to the island. “Since we’re on an island, sometimes it’s simply bad luck that we don’t have any medicine because we aren’t able to get it delivered the same day“, says Haruna Ipenzuda Maweda, who lives on Ukerewe Island.

The "DHL Parcelcopter 4.0" manages the 60 kilometres route from the mainland to the island in an average of only 40 minutes – saving three to five precious hours compared to transportation over land. In total, the drone flew more than 2,200 kilometres in about 2,000 flight minutes in the pilot phase. Its special features allow the "DHL Parcelcopter 4.0“ to start and land vertically, thus requiring little infrastructure other than a small landing area. The aircraft is able to deliver medicines over long distances and to transport laboratory samples, enabling doctors in hospitals on the mainland to make quick diagnoses and to provide island inhabitants with the needed medicines within a few hours.

An innovative business model

The pilot project "Deliver Future" aims at revolutionising medical supply in remote regions like Ukerewe by employing specialised autonomous drones. Three experts in the field are cooperating closely to make this idea reality: The German drone manufacturer Wingcopter, the German logistics company DHL and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The companies developed the business idea for Deliver Future in a lab of tomorrow innovation workshop: In 2016, more than 50 experts from the private and public sector from Germany and the African continent came together to develop sustainable solutions for drug supply in rural East African regions. Since then, more and more local actors and international experts have joined the cooperation to support the project. They successfully tested the delivery of drugs by drones to the islands in Lake Victoria for six months. In cooperation with dedicated local partners such as the regional commissioner of Mwanza, Dar Teknohama Business Incubator, Medical Store Department Tanzania, Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Health, the project facilitated profound progress in the medical supply chain.

Drones deliver future

In 2018, the project was handed over to the GIZ department “Digitalisation for Sustainable Development”. “Deliver Future” is now continued as “Drone & Data Aid” in Malawi by Wingcopter, GIZ and UNICEF Malawi. In the Kasungu district, 115.000 people should benefit from medical delivery by drone. But it is planned to connect also health centres in other remote areas through an extensive drone net.

“Drone & Data Aid” not only concentrates on providing supply of medical goods but also on collecting data during drone flights, i.e. aerial photographs. This data can, for example, help identify pest infestation in agriculture, monitor disease outbreaks and support decisions regarding infrastructural projects. To analyse this data and teach young Malawians how to build and operate drones, an "African Drone & Data Academy" will be set up in collaboration with Universities and local experts.

Learn more about Drone & Data Aid.

Learn more about the third lab of tomorrow process.

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