Ghana is first country globally to use drones to deliver COVID-19 test samples to labs
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge in Africa, Ghana has commenced transporting COVID-19 test samples from infected persons to the country’s designated testing centers.
The delivery of the test samples is being done by Zipline, the world’s only national scale on-demand drone delivery service. Its drones will fly test samples collected from patients in more than 1,000 health facilities located in difficult to reach rural areas of Ghana to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research laboratories in the nation’s capital, Accra and Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research (KCCR) in Kumasi, the country’s second-largest city.
The new service is expected to improve the ability of the Ghana government to monitor the spread of the deadly virus, which has so far infected 1,279 persons in the country with 10 deaths and 134 recoveries.
“Government has also introduced the use of drones to expedite the transportation of samples to laboratory centers. On Friday 17th April for example, 51 samples were delivered from the Omenako Drone Distribution Centre to Noguchi,” President Akufo-Addo said in a recent address to the nation on measures adopted in the fight against the coronavirus in Ghana.
“Furthermore, we are introducing rapid results testing to augment our surveillance and enhanced contact tracing efforts, so that we can quickly isolate and treat confirmed cases,” he added.
The California-based company is also expected to deliver COVID-19 test samples collected at regional hospitals near its Mampong distribution center to the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research, a nearly 60 mile/100km round trip flight. The first such delivery took place on Saturday, April 18, 2020, it said in a statement, as it expects to operate this new daily service for the duration of the Government’s COVID-19 response efforts.
This marks the first time in history that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas. It is also the first time that drones have been used in this way to deliver COVID-19 test samples.
“Zipline is dedicated to helping Ghana in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “Using contactless drone delivery to transport COVID-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly.”
“Thanks to the partnership with the Ministry of Health and with the help of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Zipline is now able to further strengthen Ghana’s response to the pandemic,” Daniel Marfo, General Manager of Zipline in Ghana added.
Before the revolutionary drone delivery, COVID-19 test sample delivery could take between many hours to days before a delivery truck takes the samples to the test centers.
“The time delay not only jeopardized the government’s ability to respond swiftly but also increased the risk that the samples were damaged in transit due to broken cold-chain storage. Using Zipline’s drones to deliver COVID-19 test samples helps save both time and money. Health facilities no longer need to wait to collect a sufficient number of tests to justify a truck delivery. Now, a single test from a rural area can be transported for analysis in under an hour,” said the company which launched in Ghana on April 24, 2019, to deliver medical supplies within designated areas in Ghana with the use of drones.
The company said it has taken many steps to ensure that it is operating the safest delivery system of its kind in the world, including rigorous testing of flight software and aircraft hardware, flight operations safety procedures, redundant inflight safety features, and modular frangible design. Zipline drones are designed to automatically detect issues inflight and safely return to base for repair.
“Test samples are packaged in accordance with the World Health Organization’s Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019. Each drone is equipped with redundant flight computers, motors, communications systems, flight control surfaces, as well as redundant navigation and power systems.
“In the event of emergencies like severe weather, emergency requests from air traffic control, or unplanned flight operation issues, each drone is equipped with a parachute that allows it to make an immediate landing by slowly descending to the ground,” the company said.