[Hawassa, Ethiopia, December 5, 2023] – Ethiopia’s first long-range drone network has completed a 30-day project delivering medical items, including 6936 vaccine doses in 44 flights to 6 hard-to-reach communities. The first two deliveries in the network took place on Friday, October 20th, 2023, and included vaccines against tuberculosis, poliovirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, and hepatitis B. These deliveries carried enough vaccines to supply these target locations for one month and mark a significant step in improving healthcare delivery in Ethiopia’s most remote regions.
Australian drone company Swoop Aero’s automated, remote-piloted aircraft Kite can fly up to 120 kilometers with a 3 kg payload before requiring a battery swap. A battery swap location has been established midway to reach the most remote clinics, extending the network’s reach to 240 kilometers from the distribution hub. The drone flies pre-planned routes that have been mapped to avoid obstacles such as mountains, power lines, and buildings. Kite takes off and lands vertically, allowing for two-way delivery and providing the ability to speed diagnostic samples from hard-to-reach communities to central labs.
The 30-day project was funded by Red Lightning and operated by Freight in Time and the Information Network Security Agency (INSA). Drone logistics is the latest phase in a multi-year initiative to bring supply chain innovation to the last-mile delivery of healthcare items in the region. The Global Fund, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS), and Freight in Time (FiT) formed a private-public partnership in 2020 aimed to reduce missed vaccinations, target at-risk-zero-dose children, and eliminate medical item stockouts at the local level. The UPS Foundation and GAVI have provided financial support for this PPP since 2022 and have generously committed an additional US$1 million to continue this support through 2024.
The response from the local communities has been overwhelmingly positive. This collaborative effort exemplifies the power of innovation, technology, and community engagement in improving healthcare access and saving lives in Ethiopia. On Dec 1st, an expansion was approved. The medical drone network will run for an additional 90 days starting in early 2024, and the network will double in size.
Red Lightning is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that conducted community awareness training and sponsored the network for the first 30 days. They trained local staff and community leaders on general awareness of the technology, its importance, and safety precautions. Their role is vital in ensuring the local population understands and accepts the technology.
Swoop Aero is an Australian-based drone company providing the drone technology, technical support, maintenance, and pilot training. They are the technical backbone of the initiative. They had a team in Ethiopia for 30 days to set up the sites and train INSA staff on piloting and FIT on daily operations and maintenance.
Freight in Time Limited (FIT):
Freight in Time Group is a leading local and regional 3PL and 4PL supply chain company with a strong track record of successful project management in the humanitarian sector. FIT is committed to delivering innovative and impactful solutions, particularly in the area of last-mile distribution of critical commodities such as vaccines and pharmaceuticals. Before the start of this initiative, the PPP of FIT and EPSS had already improved shelf availability at Last Mile Health Facilities from 41% to 95%, indicating their supply chain management expertise. They are now leveraging drone technology to enhance the distribution of medical supplies further and close the final gap in healthcare delivery, ensuring that even hardest-to-reach clinics have the necessary resources promptly.
Information Network Security Agency of Ethiopia (INSA):
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. Their expertise in network security also contributes to the overall safety and reliability of drone operations.
Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS):
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:
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 countries 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. View the full list of donor governments and other leading organizations that fund Gavi’s work here.