Humanity has seen extensive advancements in the field of healthcare and medicine over the past couple of centuries, and with the development of new, more intricate technology, it can be argued that the field has reached its zenith compared to the history of the human race. Figure 1 below illustrates this point, with more and more diseases being more well understood. However, this point, although it might be true, can be misleading; it would be extremely erroneous to argue that medicine has become ubiquitous and comprehensive over the past few decades.


Fig. 1

The right to have adequate health care that we always take for granted is not granted for all the 8 billion people on this globe. In fact, according to a census taken by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, over half of the world’s population, some 4 billion people, do not have access to adequate healthcare services, with 100 million more being pushed towards extreme poverty due to health expenses. These figures clearly illustrate that the ubiquity of medicine and healthcare is highly limited to only a handful of the population of the world.

There are reasons for this large disparity. For example, fiscal hardships are one of the paramount reasons as there are pecuniary burdens of insurances, the cost of services, and the economic state of the nation. Remoteness is another salient factor. Healthcare requires adequate equipment; basic equipment and resources may be things like stethoscopes, needles, vaccines, and medicine to treat people. More advanced paraphernalia to facilitate care may be things like endoscopes, computers, and blood analysers. These pieces of equipment may be hard to be transported to remote locations like a village in the middle of a jungle. 

There has been extensive effort to mitigate this disparity. Recently, many young entrepreneurs attempted to solve the problem of remoteness using advanced technology.

In Rwanda, there are many hospitals that lack essential resources like blood and medicine. These hospitals are also hard to reach, with the only roads being small unpaved roads taking nearly 4 hours to drive. Ergo, it would not be practical to deliver these vital resources to these hospitals with critical patients by these methods. A company, Zipline, devised a new, quite innovative method to solve this issue: drones.

Fig. 2 

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are aircrafts with no people onboard. As a result of this, one advantage is that it can come in small sizes. A company called Zipline harnesses this advantage to use drones to deliver resources to remote hospitals.

The company had a profound impact on many hospitals of the central African nation Rwanda. Rwanda has many hospitals out-of-reach from normal cars; some may take 5 hours to get to on unpaved roads. Zipline operates its drones from 2 launch centres in Rwanda. The process of deploying drones is fairly simple: firstly, they receive orders for certain resources like blood or medicine online. They then wrap the supplies in wrapping paper. Afterwards, the workers assemble the drone by putting in the battery and wings together. The payload is put into a box with a small parachute and then into the drone to be subsequently launched by a catapult.

The drone propels itself with a propeller at the rear to cruise at around 110 kilometres per hour and uses computers to automatically adjust directions. Once the drone reaches the hospital, it drops off the payload, which falls down with the parachute. The drone then redirects itself back towards the centre. Then, using military-grade GPS to get the location of the drone within one centimetre, a pair of poles with a wire adjusts their heights to tackle the incoming drone, which makes the drone come to a stop safely.

Fig. 3 

This innovative and robust method of supplying remote hospitals with pivotal resources has various advantages thanks to its methods. The system is able to operate 24 hours a day because it is not affected by visibility. Furthermore, the entire process of assembling drones is swift, allowing drones to fly in and out at the rate of one drone per 90 seconds. These drones are also extremely light and have efficient power sources, so they can travel at distances beyond 240 kilometres, which means it can traverse almost the entire country using the two launch sites.

One doctor from a hospital benefiting from this innovation described Zipline to be “like a miracle for doctors.”. The doctors have said that they have many cases of child birth in their hospital, and some require urgent care like blood transfusions. With Zipline, the remote hospital could get blood supplies within 15-20 minutes. This has been able to save a staggering figure of 25,000 lives in the 7 years the company has been operating. This is a stunning and breathtaking achievement; in fact, the company has reduced in-hospital maternal mortality rates in many hospitals by 88%.

This technology has obviously had a big impact on the country of Rwanda. The company plans to expand to create more stations and more drones to deliver health resources more efficiently. As this technology is also inexpensive and frugal, it can be implemented to other countries suffering similar problems to mitigate global health issues.

Jinyong Shin

Member of Medical Society


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