Bridging the Distance: How Drone Technology is Enhancing Access to Essential Vaccines in Remote Ethiopian Communities
Medical drone delivery in Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s first long-range drone network has successfully completed a month-long project, delivering essential medical supplies, including 6,936 vaccine doses, to six remote communities. The project, which included 44 flights, marks a significant advancement in healthcare delivery in Ethiopia’s most isolated regions.
The drone network, operated by Australian drone company Swoop Aero, utilized their automated, remote-piloted aircraft, Kite. Capable of flying up to 120 kilometers with a 3 kg payload before requiring a battery swap, Kite was able to reach the most remote clinics via a midway battery swap location, effectively doubling the network’s reach from the distribution hub.
The project was funded by Red Lightning and operated by Freight in Time and the Information Network Security Agency (INSA). It represents the latest phase in a multi-year initiative to innovate supply chain delivery of healthcare items in the region. This initiative, a private-public partnership formed in 2020, aims to reduce missed vaccinations, target at-risk-zero-dose children, and eliminate medical item stockouts at the local level.
The local communities have responded positively to the project. The collaborative effort demonstrates the potential of innovation, technology, and community engagement in improving healthcare access and saving lives in Ethiopia. An expansion of the medical drone network has been approved, with the network set to double in size and run for an additional 90 days starting in early 2024.
A Cooperative Effort
Red Lightning, a non-profit organization, played a crucial role in the project, conducting community awareness training and sponsoring the network for the first 30 days. Swoop Aero provided the drone technology, technical support, maintenance, and pilot training. Freight in Time Group (FIT), a leading local and regional supply chain company, showcased their supply chain management expertise, improving on-shelf availability at Last Mile Health Facilities from 41% to 95%. INSA is responsible for the drones’ daily operations, maintenance, and piloting. Their role is to operate the drones effectively, ensuring that they are deployed to transport medical supplies, fulfill healthcare delivery needs, and meet any emergency requirements efficiently and safely.
Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS) serves as a coordination and supply hub for clinic orders. Their primary responsibility is coordinating with healthcare clinics to determine their medical supply needs and fulfill the orders to ensure the right medical supplies are available. They load the drones with the required medical supplies, ensuring the correct items are sent to each clinic. In doing so, they ensure that the drone deliveries accurately fulfill the healthcare requirements of the clinics. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership that helps vaccinate more than half the world’s children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners.