Drones will be used to deliver life-saving blood to 21 transfusing facilities in Rwanda.

The Rwandan government last week began using drones to make up to 150 on-demand, emergency deliveries per day of life-saving blood to facilities located in the western half of the country.

The drones and delivery service are built and operated by Zipline, a Calif.-based robotics company.

While Rwanda’s drone delivery service will initially focus on blood, an international partnership between UPS, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Zipline will help the country quickly expand the types of medicines and lifesaving vaccines that can be delivered.

“The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year around the world,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “We’ve built an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicine to be delivered on-demand and at low-cost, anywhere.”

The Global Problem

Throughout the developing world, access to lifesaving and critical health products is hampered by the last-mile problem: the inability to deliver needed medicine from a city to rural or remote locations due to lack of adequate transportation, communication and supply chain infrastructure.

In Rwanda, postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. Blood requires storage and transport at safe temperatures and spoils quickly. Because there are many different blood products and no way to accurately project future needs, many transfusion clinics do not keep all the blood they may need in stock.

During Rwanda’s lengthy rainy season, many roads wash out becoming impassible or non-existent.  The result is that all too often someone in need of a lifesaving transfusion cannot access the blood they need to survive.