How Life-Saving Drones Could Revolutionize Health Care In Rwanda

Making the impossible possible.

Conversations about using drones for delivery in the United States typically revolve around pizza or impulse buys from Amazon, but one company is using the technology to its full potential, bringing life-saving supplies to the most remote parts of Rwanda.

Rwanda is pretty small—slightly smaller than the state of Maryland—with  a per capita GDP of about $650. (For comparison, the per capita GDP in the U.S. is $53,000.) Though the country isn't very big, the lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for health care workers to provide their best level of care because it takes too long to receive necessary, life-saving supplies such as medicine and blood for transfusions. Because of the challenging terrain, it often takes weeks for supplies to get to where they need to go.

Rwanda currently has a staggering infant mortality rate of 58.19 per 1,000 births, but that number could be reduced drastically if the proper medical supplies are made available in a more timely fashion.

Beginning in July, the San Francisco-based company Zipline will make it easier than ever for medical supplies to reach Rwandans in a fraction of the time it used to. Health care workers use cell phones to call in an order of supplies and one of Zipline's 15 drones promptly makes the delivery.

The range of Zipline's drone fleet across Rwanda.
The range of Zipline's drone fleet across Rwanda. Zipline

Each drone can cruise in excess of 60 mph toward its target, guided by GPS. The cargo area of each aircraft is temperature-controlled, making it safe to transport blood and refrigerated medications. Once it has arrived at the facility, a hatch on the underside of the drone opens and the package containing blood, medicine, or other materials safely parachutes to the ground.

The current range of the drones means about half the country is within reach in a matter of hours. The drones are also capable of flying in bad weather, even staying on course in the face of winds reaching 30 mph.

Not only does this project have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, but it could signal the beginning of something big. Once it has been determined that using drones for medical supplies is feasible and successful, The New York Times reports that the Rwandan government will use the technology for other goods and services to help build the country's economy. 

Rwanda may currently be situated near the bottom of the global economy, but they are working hard to help change that. The first step will be ensuring their citizens receive good medical care and grow healthy enough to bring that dream to fruition.

Check out more information on Zipline here: 

Cover image: atm2003 /

(H/T: New York Times)