Monday December 9, 2019

Drones in Ghana Makes On-Demand Medical Emergency Deliveries

The drones fly autonomously, can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, can cruise at 110 kilometers an hour and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometers

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Drone, Senegal, Africa, Innovation, Waste
Not all materials necessary to make the drone are available in Senegal, but Diop says he wants to prove that it’s possible to make this technology right here in his home country. VOA

At New Tafo Hospital, health care workers watch the sky, listening for a distinct buzzing noise they have grown used to in the past month. In seconds, a small drone comes into view and quickly drops a package before it returns to its base.

Ghana’s drone service, launched in April, makes on-demand emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products and lifesaving medications to health facilities in the country, 24 hours a day.

New Tafo, a government hospital about two hours north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, was the first hospital to use the service, brought to Ghana by Silicon Valley company Zipline. Medical superintendent Kobena Wriedu said the hospital had received at least 25 drone deliveries in the past month, with a handful coming in emergency situations. The service is much faster than deliveries made by road, especially in Ghana, were road networks are poor.

Critical supply source

“There was this child who was on my ward who was virtually O Rh negative,” a blood type that’s difficult to get, Wriedu said. “We had to fall on Zipline. They were able to deliver it. … Sometimes, we need fresh frozen plasma for bleeding cases that we encounter, and the delivery is done in a very short time to save lives. So, many lives have been saved within the period of the one month that the medical drone service was launched in Ghana.”

drones
Ghana’s first drone delivery center is in the country’s Eastern Region. Drones can deliver within 80 km of the center. (S. Knott/VOA)

The products come from the country’s first Zipline drone center at Omenako, which is about 40 minutes by pothole-riddled road to the hospital — or 12 minutes by drone. By the end of the year, an additional three centers are set to be opened across Ghana. Combined, they will provide deliveries to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people, making up to 600 delivery flights a day on behalf of the Ghanaian government, under a contract worth $12.5 million over four years.

Taking orders, preparing flights

The center in Omenako where the drones come from has a cold storage facility for the blood and medicines to be stored. Workers watch the screens as orders come through and quickly fill the orders and assemble and launch the drones. They get the orders from health care workers like George Appiah Boadu at the New Tafo Hospital, who places them by text message. For him, access to blood products has been particularly useful.

“We have pregnant women who also come in,” Boadu said. “For instance, if we have an ectopic case and for this patient the only option for us is to get to the [operating] theater … if you don’t have blood available, you risk losing her life.” So the drone technology has been a lifesaver, he said.

drones
Zipline flight operator Josephine Fianu gets a drone ready for takeoff from the Omenako drone center. So far, four health centers are using the service in Ghana. (S. Knott/VOA)

The drones fly autonomously, can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, can cruise at 110 kilometers an hour and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometers. They look like small propeller planes. A drone will zoom above the hospital, release its package attached to a red parachute, then zip back to the base without landing at the hospital.

The launch in Ghana marked Zipline’s expansion in Africa. It started operating in Rwanda in October 2016 and now delivers more than 65 percent of Rwanda’s blood supply outside the capital, Kigali. The service helped transform the country’s medical supply chain.

Rainy season ahead

Ghana’s services are still in the early stages, with only four health facilities using it so far. The Omenako center’s fulfillment operations coordinator, Samuel Akuffo, said the service would prove its worth as Ghana starts to see heavy rain for the rainy season. The drones can fly in all weather conditions, and over roads that vehicles might not be able to pass in heavy rain.

ALSO READ: Kenya Upholds Laws that Criminalize Same-Sex Relations

“During this rainy season some of the roads to some of the health centers are very bad,” Akuffo said. “When some of the roads get very muddy and very difficult to ply, most of the facilities find it difficult having to go and look for a particular medication or blood. … It also makes it difficult for their supplies to reach them, so most of the supplies are either postponed or they don’t even go and get the product at all.” (VOA)

Next Story

Innovation and Startup Culture Thriving in Ghana

Ghana is seeing a spurt in Innovation & Technology

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A worker using his innovation inside Nelson Boateng's Nelplast Factory
Inside Nelson Boateng's Nelplast Factory in the outskirts of Accra, Ghana, a worker creates bricks from recycled plastic and sand. VOA

ACCRA – Ghana is regarded as a West African hub of invention, with growing numbers of young people looking at local solutions to local problems.  In December, Ghana is hosting two conferences on innovation and technology.

Alhassan Baba Muniru, co-founder of the Recycle Up company, wants to clean up the natural environment in Ghana.

But he also wants to educate, empower and support young people to pursue conservation – and to make money while doing it.

At the December Innovation Africa summit in Accra, he plans to advocate for more support for young inventors, especially those looking to do green business.

“Even while we are in school we are already entrepreneurial so, for me, I can be able to do a formal job but the freedom of being able to bring my own ideas into action and really take charge of doing something practical and something which also makes society better – it’s much more fulfilling,” said Muniru.

Alhassan Baba Muniro talking about Innovation
Alhassan Baba Muniro wants to clean up and create jobs for young people. VOA

Part of Recycle Up’s work includes collecting plastic from schools to sell to people like Nelson Boateng, whose company mixes it with sand to create bricks.

Muniru and Boateng walk through the factory in the outskirts of Accra, where plastic from across the city is shredded, melted, mixed and then molded into bricks to be used for roads, pavements and buildings.

Boateng, who also manufactures plastic bags, said the bricks are his way of helping to clean up the environment and to provide jobs.

But while Ghana is seeing a spurt in innovation, he said the country needs a lot more infrastructure to support environmentally-friendly business.

“For innovations in Ghana, it’s very, very difficult if you don’t really have the heart.  You will lose hope because honestly speaking when I was doing my polybag that is polluting the environment, I was having a lot of money.  I have money, there wasn’t any problem. When I started this, when you go to the bank they don’t know this, they want something that the money will be flowing, not something you people don’t know –  and not something you say you are trying to save the environment, nobody will mind you on that,” he said.

Supporting local technology startups is expected to be discussed at another December conference in Accra – the second annual Ghana Tech Summit.

ALSO READ: India: Innovation Holds the Key to Job Crisis.

Ghanaian inventor Andrew Quao is working to ease the burden on hospitals with technology that allows pharmacies to diagnosis and monitor chronic and tropical diseases.

Andrew Quao, Co-founder of 'Red Birds' helps in innovation and startup.
Andrew Quao, Co-founder of healthcare tech startup ‘Red Birds’ works with pharmacies across Ghana. VOA

He said African healthcare sectors like Ghana’s are ripe for innovative solutions.

“I think it is growing in the right direction, I think the climate is good, you have got a good mix of local talent and experience and expats coming in and seeing Ghana as a good point to start, so that also works.  We have the ‘brain gain.’ The diasporans – people like myself who schooled in the U.S. – coming back and trying to bring innovations in country,” said Quao.

While both public and private sectors are backing innovation, entrepreneurs hope to see a swell of support from the Innovation Africa and Ghana Tech summits. (VOA)