Testing for coronavirus has been a struggle in Ghana. Apparently, health officials in the cities of Accra and Kumasi would wait for hours or even days for delivery trucks to visit rural medical facilities, collect batches of test samples, and then deliver them for analysis. The delivery time is now far shorter—thanks to drones.
In April 2019, US-based startup Zipline launched a drone-delivery service in Ghana, using its fleet of fixed-wing drones to transport blood, vaccines, and other medical supplies to remote areas. One year later, on April 17, it officially launched a delivery service to speed up coronavirus testing.
Through this service, Zipline collects samples from more than 1,000 rural hospitals at its existing distribution centers and packages them according to World Health Organization guidelines. Its drones then fly the samples to either Accra’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research or the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research. The packages containing the samples are then dropped via parachute to the waiting medical staff.
On the first day of the service, Zipline drones made four flights, each more than 70 miles roundtrip, to deliver 51 coronavirus test samples to Accra. The following day, it began delivering samples to Kumasi, a 60-mile roundtrip flight, and it plans to continue the deliveries for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. This approach allows Ghana to speed up coronavirus testing, as it no longer needs to wait for batches of samples to arrive via truck — as soon as samples arrive at one of Zipline’s distribution centers, the company can pack them up and send them off to one of the nation’s major cities for analysis. The use of drones also eliminates potential contact between truck drivers and the coronavirus. Zipline is certainly pleased to be putting its drones to good work and is hoping to bring its technology home to America to speed up coronavirus testing.