Sunday March 29, 2020

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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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

Here’s Why Drones May Prove To Be Helpful in Battling Coronavirus in India

Officially there are about 16,000 drones in India

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Officially there are about 16,000 drones in India, says report. Pixabay

With the states across India pulling out all stops in the country’s battle against coronavirus, a Chennai-based drone company too is using its technological innovations to tackle the scourge in Chhattisgarh capital Raipur and elsewhere.

“Our drones will spray disinfectant on areas specified by the Chhattisgarh government, usually hospital areas, government offices and buildings,” Agnishwar Jayaprakash, Managing Director of city-based Garuda Aerospace, told IANS.

Jayaprakash, 29, has created quite a splash in the international swimming pools to win medals for India. In his home state Tamil Nadu, he says, the government is doing pilot studies on spraying disinfectant with Garuda’s drones on the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, as also Ripon Building that houses the Greater Chennai Corporation, and others.

The drone manufacturer has bagged orders from some private hospitals in Chennai for disinfecting their buildings as well, he added. The challenge before him is to reach Raipur with his drones and pilots amid the national lockdown.

“We will spray disinfectant over 770 acres initially. We will send two drones and two pilots by road initially. We can finish the spraying task in two days,” Jayaprakash said. “The total order is of Rs.2.3 crore for sanitiser spray across 180 sq km,” he added.

Interestingly, Jayaprakash was born with a lung ailment and will now be using drones to kill a virus that damages human lungs. According to him, Garuda Aerospace is getting enquiries from various state governments for disinfecting public places by using drones.

On the business model, he said: “It will be a sort of Drones as a Service (DAAS). We will provide our drones and the pilots to operate them. The customer has to provide the disinfectant.” He pointed out that a drone could cover 20 km distance compared to a human’s 4-5 km within specific time and that a fleet of 300 drones can cover 6,000 km linear distance in a day.

“During a pandemic, speed of disinfecting areas is important. Further, it is safe as health workers could be exposed to health risk while drones and their pilots are not. The speed, productivity, and precision of drones are better than human beings,” he added.

Coronavirus, Coronavirus Covid-19
With the states across India pulling out all stops in the country’s battle against coronavirus, a Chennai-based drone company too is using its technological innovations to tackle the scourge in Chhattisgarh capital Raipur and elsewhere. Pixabay

Jayaprakash said that each drone can spray 40 litres of disinfectant every day, if deployed for 12 hours. The drones can fly up to a height of 400 ft and carry out spraying operations on even on tall buildings. According to him, Garuda has manufactured and serviced drones for several government departments in Tamil Nadu, like forests, electricity, police, mining, agriculture, Indian Coast Guard and others.

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As the company had used drones to spray pesticides on farm land, it occurred to him to use them to spray disinfectants also, he said. Queried about the industry size in India, Jayaprakash said it is worth about $100 million and 15-20 organised players with all statutory licences. According to him, officially there are about 16,000 drones in India. (IANS)