From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa

 in The Guardian: “Some are killing machines. Others are pesky passions of the weekend hobbyist. As such, drones have not always been welcomed in our skies.

Across Africa, however, projects are being launched that could revolutionise medical supply chains and commercial deliveries, combat poaching and provide other solutions for an overburdened, underdeveloped continent.

In Rwanda, as in many other African countries, the rainy season makes already difficult roads between smaller towns and villages all but impassable. Battered trucks struggle through the mud, and in some cases even more agile motorbikes and foot traffic are unable get through.

“Rwanda is essentially a rural country. Lots of blood products cannot be stocked at every health centre. At best it can take four to six hours to get supplies through,” says the technology minister, Jean Philbert Nsengimana.

“For mothers giving birth, postpartum haemorrhaging, or bleeding post-delivery, happens quite often. It may not be possible to prevent. Then what is needed is a quick and rapid intervention.”

“This technology has the potential to erase barriers to access for countless critical medicines and save lives on a scale not previously possible,” says Keller Rinaudo, Zipline’s chief executive, which is staffed by experienced aerospace engineers including those who have worked at SpaceX, Boeing and Nasa.

“While there are a number of potential applications for this technology, we’re keenly focused on using it to save lives.”…

Drones are being tested in other emerging economies. Matternet, another Silicon Valley startup, has run pilots moving samples from rural clinics to a laboratory inPapua New Guinea and is launching a small medical delivery network inDominican Republic.

The company is also working with Unicef in Malawi to develop a project using UAVs to carry blood samples from infants born to HIV-positive parents, underscoring the physical and geographical challenges that are present across much of the continent.

Some frontline health workers are supportive….(More)”