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Taking medical service delivery to the next level GoG/Zipline collaboration is pure

BY: Charles Benoni Okine
One of the drones ready to be launched to deliver blood to a hospital in the next town away from Muhanga
One of the drones ready to be launched to deliver blood to a hospital in the next town away from Muhanga

It’s a small landlocked country in east-central Africa. At the mention of the word genocide, the name of that country comes to mind.

It is called Rwanda. In 1994, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by dominant Hutu forces in the spate of 100 days.

Rwanda was reduced to ashes, with many across the world doubting when the country would be rebuilt to its former glory.

According to the United Nations, countries that went through such terrible and barbaric wars usually took about 60 years to rebuild. But Rwanda has been rebuilt in about 20 years.

Although the country continues to struggle with its legacy of ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus, the citizens have come to the realisation that war destroys and should not be entertained.

 Instead, there is the need for them to consider themselves as one people to enable them to reap the full benefits of a peaceful country.

Through visionary leadership and the repose of confidence by the people, Rwanda is striving to rebuild its economy, with coffee and tea production among its main exports.

 Tourism is also contributing big to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

These among other things have compelled the World Bank to praise Rwanda's "remarkable development successes" which have helped reduce poverty and inequality.

Health sector

One of the most remarkable transformations in that country is the development of the health sector.

In Rwanda, access to blood is free because the cost is borne by the State.

However, it was realised over the years that many people got to the hospital in different conditions and did not get access to what they required.

In the end, they are transferred over long distances to other facilities to enable them to get the needed attention. Unfortunately, some die on the way.

In order to change that trend, the government decided to use the benefits of ICT to be able to offer the people medical services more efficiently and faster.

As a result, the country has adopted the use of drones for the delivery of medicines and blood to health facilities that need them.

The service, provided by US-based company, Zipline, makes Rwanda the first country in Africa to use drones to accelerate the transformation in the health delivery service of that country.

 Drones are used in the distribution of blood to health facilities dotted across the country to save lives.

Endorsing the drone service

In an attempt to know more about the drone service, the Director-General of the Ruhango Provincial Hospital, Dr Richard Usabyineza, whose facility received one of the supplies from the drone during a visit to that country, described the new method of medical deliveries as a major transformation to the healthcare system in Rwanda.

Undoubtedly, he said patients who would have died for lack of blood supplies during emergencies were now being saved because of the quick delivery time, adding that “the difference in time of delivery from the drones takes minutes while that of the road vehicles takes several hours”.

As a result, there is a lot of money saved on vehicle maintenance, fuel and other costs because the hospital, just like other health facilities dotted across the country, seldom relies on the vehicles.

“The transformation is huge and we are reducing maternal mortality in the country too,” he said.

Testimony of a beneficiary

A resident who lives more than three kilometres away from the hospital, John Mukantagara, narrated a story about how his wife nearly died, but for the quick delivery of a particular blood type to the hospital his wife needed to have her life saved.

“While in labour, she starting bleeding profusely.

We rushed her to hospital on a motorbike and on arrival, we were told she needed blood urgently.

They checked their stock and they had a lot of blood but unfortunately not the blood type she needed. The doctor on duty quickly ordered one and it was delivered within 20 minutes,” he said.

Plan for Ghana

The Government of Ghana, in its quest to take the country’s health delivery services to another level, has decided to copy the Rwandan example.

 With Parliament approving the concept, the ground is now set for the government to adopt the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for the distribution of essential emergency medical supplies to various health facilities across the country.

 This project is set to begin full operations before the end of the second quarter of the year.

A base at Ominako, five kilometres away from Suhum in the Eastern Region, is under construction and when ready, the project, the first of four to be constructed in the country, will serve areas within the Eastern Region, including all of the Afram Plains, Volta Region, parts of Greater Accra and the Ashanti Region.

Among the emergency medical supplies to be distributed are blood and other medications on request from any medical facility within the designated operational areas.

According to the Systems Specialist of Zipline, Ghana, Mr Daniel Marfo, the project was expected to help transform the country’s health delivery system.

“This project will be a major complement for the health sector because it will help deliver emergency essential drugs and blood to deprived areas of the country effectively, faster and relatively cheaper,” he said.

Conclusion

In many countries which are serious about changing the face of their economies and making life worth living for the people, the use of ICT is being used as the driving force.

 It is efficient, economical, less risky and cuts cost to a large extent.

It also eliminates human interventions that have the tendency to corrupt the system.

If Rwanda has found it necessary to start this medical drone delivery services, Ghana has no excuse and, therefore, the project requires the support of all and sundry to make it work.

There are citizens and companies in faraway USA who are travelling to Rwanda on a weekly basis to witness for themselves how the technology is changing the face of the healthcare system in Rwanda.

With the Ghana project more likely to be bigger than that of Rwanda, the benefits to be accrued to the country are evident.

 This, therefore, provides an opportunity for Ghanaians to embrace the concept and help make it a reality.

 Who knows, the first beneficiary could be a family member or a relation living in a remote part of the country.

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