Rwanda’s government has signed an agreement with a US-based robotics company, Zipline International Inc., to build infrastructure for drones, which they will also supply, to deliver medical supplies to health facilities across the country.

Throughout Africa, difficult terrain often prevents medical products from reaching the patients whose lives depend on it.

The Zipline drones are intended to bypass the challenges of existing transportation and improve the efficiency of health supply chains and provide reliable access to medical products, irrespective of where the patient resides.

Zipline’s CEO, Keller Rinaudo, said the unmanned aircraft will make deliveries to rural health facilities for less than it would cost to make the same deliveries by motorbike.

“In automating their supply chain using unmanned aircrafts, Rwanda is investing in innovative technology that will improve public health services and save lives. We’re very proud to be able to work with the Government of Rwanda to achieve this audacious goal,” said Rinaudo.

“We believe that using cutting edge technology to allow supply chains to operate independently of existing infrastructure represents a huge opportunity for our country,” said Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana.

Zipline will begin by setting up three drone ports in Rwanda and test flights will begin  in August. The first deployment will be based in Muhanga District and will provide Rwandan citizens with reliable, on-demand access to blood and other essential medical products.

An expansion plan of this project looks at building a bigger eco-system of cargo drones in Rwanda, connecting secondary cities, focusing on capacity building and research development, among others. The government has already partnered with Redline Foundation, a Swiss-based charitable organisation, to start this investment.

To facilitate the planned development, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) is in the process of drafting regulations and a framework to guide further developments.  Once complete, a draft of the regulations will be submitted to Cabinet for approval.

According to RCAA, the regulation drafting process involves consultations with stakeholders in the aviation industry and is also guided by the international civil aviation guidelines.

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