Ethiopia successfully implements long range drone network project

Ethiopia has successfully implemented its first long-range drone network. She just completed a 30-day project that saw the delivery of crucial medical items, including 6,936 vaccine doses, in 44 flights to six difficult-to-access communities.

The drone network, operated by Australian drone company Swoop Aero, utilized an automated, remote-piloted aircraft called Kite, capable of flying up to 120 kilometres with a three kg payload before requiring a battery swap.

The deliveries included vaccines against diseases such as tuberculosis, poliovirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, and hepatitis B. And will enhance healthcare delivery in Ethiopia’s most remote regions significantly.

To enhance reach, especially for clinics situated in the remotest areas, a battery swap location was strategically established midway, effectively extending the network’s reach to 240 kilometres.

The project is a private-public partnership with collaborations between the Global Fund, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS), and Freight in Time.

This drone logistics initiative is not a one time event. It is part of a broader multi-year effort to introduce innovation in the region’s last-mile delivery of healthcare items. The drone network aims to address healthcare logistics challenges in the country. Some of them include reducing missed vaccinations, targeting at-risk-zero-dose children, and eliminating medical item stockouts at the local level.

Local communities have positively received the drone network’s impact on healthcare delivery in Ethiopia. The positive review highlights the effectiveness of innovation, technology, and community engagement in improving healthcare access. Ultimately saving lives.

Following the success of the 30-day project, an expansion has been approved. And the medical drone network will run for an additional 90 days, doubling in size from early 2024.

Key organizations involved in the initiative

1. Red lightening which conducted community awareness training and sponsored the network for the first 30 days

2. Swoop Aero, which provided drone technology, technical support, maintenance, and pilot training

3. Freight in Time Limited, a leading regional supply chain company managing last-mile distribution of critical commodities

4. Information Network Security Agency of Ethiopia (INSA), responsible for daily drone operations, maintenance, and piloting

5. Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS), serving as a coordination and supply hub for clinic orders.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has also played a crucial role in supporting this public-private partnership, contributing to the vaccination efforts in Ethiopia. The success of the long-range drone network demonstrates the potential of innovative logistics solutions in overcoming challenges associated with healthcare delivery in remote and underserved regions.