Zipline: Redefining the health supply chain with lifesaving drone service

by | Apr 30, 2021 | COVID-19, Rural Development, Rural Health

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Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed medical supply chains and medical personnel, particularly in rural areas of the developing world. With this in mind, Zipline – a global logistics company that uses autonomous drones to deliver medicines, vaccines, and other vital products on-demand has been able to leverage on their infrastructure to mount an agile, equitable, and resilient response to the pandemic.

Zipline’s mission is to provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies. In 2016, they partnered with Gavi, UPS, and the Government of Rwanda to pioneer the world’s first national-scale drone delivery service. Fast forward to 2021, Zipline now operates the world’s largest autonomous delivery system, reaching around 25 million people and operating at a national scale in Rwanda, and Ghana, and began operations in the US in 2020.

The Government of Ghana has called on Zipline to do everything from nationwide distribution of PPE to expediting COVID test sample deliveries, but what perhaps they’re most proud of is their ongoing work on COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

While Zipline started with blood delivery in Rwanda with a focus on emergency deliveries to rural areas, what they find is that health systems can quickly transform their supply chain around the on-demand capability that Zipline provides. Zipline enables healthcare systems to significantly increase access to medical supplies and other vital products while simultaneously reducing product wastage and cost, two objectives that often conflict.

In Ghana, Zipline is central to the country’s medical supply chain and their four existing distribution centers serve over 2,000 health facilities with routine medical supplies and emergency blood and essential medicines. Zipline’s footprint in Ghana is expanding significantly with the support of the Ghanian government, and this year, four additional distribution centers to are added to their existing network. When complete, Zipline will be able to serve about 85% of the population directly, and the remainder indirectly, reaching over 3,200 health facilities in every region of the country.

In March, Ghana became the first country in Africa to receive vaccines from the COVAX Facility, and Zipline immediately began distribution in partnership with Gavi, and support from the UPS Foundation. This expanded Zipline’s existing vaccine distribution program in Ghana, which has distributed over 2 million doses of routine vaccines in the past two years. With its delivery system, Ghana is on track to carry out one of the fastest and most equitable vaccination campaigns worldwide. So far, tens of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses were sent to healthcare facilities across the country in order to inoculate essential workers and vulnerable populations at convenient local dosing sites and raising vaccine confidence by allowing trusted local leaders nationwide to be among the first vaccine recipients.

Building on the collaboration with Gavi, Zipline is also collaborating with a leading manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines to design, test, and scale custom ultra-cold chain packaging, ensuring end-to-end product safety and stability.

Over the next 8 months, Zipline will continue to work with Gavi and the government of Ghana to deliver over 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to thousands of ex-urban healthcare facilities, including those with no on-site cold chain, to vaccinate 20% of the rural population before year’s end. Since we launched in Ghana in 2019, Zipline has flown more than 5 million autonomous miles to deliver more than 1.5 million doses of vaccines, units of blood, and critical and life-saving medications.

The pandemic has tested the capacity of healthcare delivery systems around the world and made it clear the value that comes from a resilient and agile supply chain solution that leverages on-demand delivery. It has triggered a tremendous amount of interest in the broader supply chain transformation that Zipline enables. Zipline is thrilled to be launching their next programs in Kaduna State, Nigeria, and later this year in Japan.

This article is part of our 60th-anniversary series. It is written by Keller Rinaudo is the CEO and co-founder of Zipline, a global logistics company that transports critical and life-saving products precisely where and when they are needed.