No country in Sub-Saharan Africa has embraced the digital innovations brought by the IT revolution more than Rwanda. Landlocked and with a very challenging topography, Rwanda is using this technology to transform the way that healthcare is delivered to its people.
The government’s strategy for healthcare delivery is both visionary and comprehensive. According to Keller Rinaudo, CEO of California-based drone and robotics manufacturer Zipline, Rwanda’s objective is “to put each of Rwanda’s 11 million citizens within a 15- to 35-minute delivery of any essential medical product”. In the land of a thousand hills, this is no simple task.
From a curiosity to a transformative technology
Over the past three years, the SCM World community’s perspective on drones has evolved from mild curiosity to a recognition of the transformative role the technology can play across supply chain and operations.
The chart below shows time series data from our annual Future of Supply Chain survey. The recognition of drones as disruptive and important to an organisation’s supply chain strategy leapfrogged in 2016 across many industries. But what’s changed? We now have real-world use cases of the technology as an enabler of operational improvement. From Land O’Lakes’ use of the technology in farming operations to BASF using automated rail cars at its massive Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, companies are finding innovative ways to improve operational performance.However, use cases of drones to support last-mile delivery are non-existent. Until now.
How to increase distribution reach in Rwanda? Fly over the hills
In Rwanda, one of the most common and dangerous threats faced by women during childbirth is postpartum haemorrhage. Death from postpartum haemorrhage is highly preventable as long as the caregivers have near immediate access to blood supply. Trips by road can take upwards of four hours to certain locations in Rwanda, and roads may be impassable in the rainy season.
To overcome these limitations, the Rwandan ministry of health partnered with Zipline to develop a delivery model that uses fixed-wing drones to deliver blood supplies within 45 minutes of a health worker placing an order by phone or SMS. The drones don’t land, but drop the supplies via parachute.
The future is here.
Shared value as a business model innovation
Zipline is two and a half years old; for the first two years, it operated in stealth mode, designing and developing the drone technology and software.
“At that point, our team consisted almost exclusively of engineers focused on developing the technological innovation,” says Brittany Hume Charm, head of international growth at Zipline. “As a next step, we knew we needed to augment our technical perspective with other kinds of expertise and relationships to ensure that the technology would translate into a service that delivered maximum value to public health systems. And as a small startup, hiring can’t always be the answer – you have to get creative.”
Zipline partnered with both the UPS Foundation and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) to help them quickly access expertise on logistics and global health delivery, respectively. What was born was a terrific example of a private-public partnership where every party wins.
For instance, the UPS Foundation was able to learn about a technological advancement that could significantly impact its business over the next decade. Gavi was able to learn about and test a technology that can overcome the major hurdles to the delivery of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, namely the need for the products to maintain a temperature of 2-8°C. This cold chain requirement for refrigeration is dramatically reduced if you deliver the products at exceptional speed or just in time.
Zipline received credibility by being associated with two well-respected global leaders and by obtaining valuable advice that helped its first customer implementation in Rwanda take flight – literally. It took away significant learnings in logistics services from UPS’s deep operational expertise in nearly every country across the globe. And from Gavi, Zipline learned the ins and outs of working with ministries of health as well as the technical requirements of transporting cold chain products at spec.
This first use case holds tremendous promise to totally transform last-mile healthcare delivery in areas of the globe that are difficult to access. It also demonstrates the importance of nurturing public-private partnerships to not only create new business models, but help a government realise its vision for its citizens.