The Tanzanian government has announced its plans to launch the world’s largest drone delivery service to provide emergency on-demand access to critical and life-saving medicines by early next year.

The Tanzanian Ministry of Health and the country’s Medical Stores Department will work with California-based logistics company, Zipline, to open four distribution centres in the country over the next four years, with the intent to deliver blood using drones to over a thousand public health facilities in the country.

“Our vision is to have a healthy society with improved social well-being that will contribute effectively to personal and national development; working with Zipline will help make that vision a reality,” said Permanent Secretary of the Tanzania Ministry of Health, Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya.

“We strive to ensure that all 5,640 public health facilities have all the essential medicines, medical supplies and laboratory reagents they need, wherever they are—even in the most hard to reach areas,” added  Director General of Tanzania’s Medical Stores Department, Laurean Bwanakunu.

“But that mission can be a challenge during emergencies, times of unexpected demand, bad weather, or for small but critical orders. Using drones for just-in-time deliveries will allow us to provide health facilities with complete access to vital medical products no matter the circumstance,” continued Bwanakunu.

The drones and delivery service are built and operated by Zipline, which has been operating a blood delivery service in Rwanda since the launch in October 2016. Since last October, Zipline has flown more than 100,000 km in Rwanda, delivering 2,600 units of blood over 1,400 flights.

“Millions of people across the world die each year because they can’t get the medicine they need when they need it,” said CEO of Zipline, Keller Rinaudo.

“It’s a problem in both developed and developing countries. But it’s a problem we can help solve with on-demand drone delivery. And African nations are showing the world how it’s done,” continued Rinaudo.

Tanzania will make on-demand drone delivery of blood transfusion supplies, emergency vaccines, HIV medications, anti-malarials and critical medical supplies like sutures and IV tubes.

The first distribution centre, located in Dodoma, the country’s capital, will begin its first flights in the first quarter of 2018. Three additional distribution centres will follow —two in the north-western corner of Tanzania near Mwanza and Lake Victoria, and one in the Southern Highlands near Mbeya.

Each of the four distribution centres will be equipped with up to 30 drones and is capable of making up to 500 on-demand delivery flights a day. According to Zipline, the drones have capacity to carry 1.5 kilograms of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometres an hour, and have a round trip range of 160 kilometres.

Health workers place delivery orders by text message and receive their package within 30 minutes on average. Zipline’s drones take off and land at the distribution centre only, requiring no additional infrastructure at the clinics it serves. Deliveries happen from the sky, with the drone descending close to the ground and air dropping the medicine to a designated spot near the health centres.

For its Tanzania launch, Zipline says it will partner with the Human Development Innovation Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Saving Lives at Birth initiative to conduct research on the Zipline’s impact on the region.

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