A drone has managed to regularly deliver medicines to a remote island in the middle of the largest lake in Africa over a six-month test phase. This experiment – led by DHL, the German Agency for International Cooperation and Wingcopter – also allowed blood samples taken on the island to be delivered to laboratories on the mainland. This is a promising advance for public health in Africa and, more generally, for inhabitants of medical deserts.
For six months, international courier DHL (a subsidiary of Deutsche Post), the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the manufacturer of Wingcopter drones joined forces to test a medical delivery service by drone to an island on Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, which covers an area of 68,100km².
During this test phase, a small robotic aircraft made regular trips between the mainland and Ukerewe Island (a 60km journey) in just 40 minutes, reports BFMTV. In total, it took off and landed 180 times, covered 2,200km, notched up around 2,000 flight minutes, and delivered a huge number of medicines. This is a promising advance for medically isolated regions.
More than 3 hours on a ferry to reach the island
To reach Ukerewe Island, there are two traditional modes of transport: either a 3.5-hour ferry crossing from the city of Mwanza, or a six-hour drive (240km) to get from Mwanza to another ferry port that is closer to the island, followed by a 3.8km crossing.
These trips take far too long, and the terrible state of local facilities do not help matters. Supplying medicines to the island is a real problem, and the situation is critical on Ukerewe, an island which has 400,000 inhabitants.
A new tool to fight the Ebola epidemic?
Over the course of this six-month test phase, the drone did not only transport medicines. Once it had completed its delivery, it made the return flight loaded with blood samples to be processed in laboratories on the mainland.
This conclusive experiment could be applied in a number of ways that would benefit public health in Africa, say DHL, GIZ and Wingcopter. The use of drones may even help fight the spread of Ebola and other pandemic diseases more efficiently, by rapidly delivering specific treatments to the affected areas.
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