Drones Deliver Life-Saving Medical Supplies to Remote Kenyan Villages


“So far we have done deliveries in thousands under all registered health facilities in Kisumu thus streamlining supply value chain and giving room to transparency and accountability” Awuor confessed

Kisumu, Zipline test drone to deliver drugs to hospitals/Courtesy Star N/P

By Grace Nekesa 

Technology has come with great changes including bringing services closer to the people. At the click of a drone app medicine is delivered to far flung areas with poor infrastructure.

Melvin Akinyi Otieno is 23 years old and a mother of three. She vividly remembers one Wednesday morning in November last year waking up to excruciating pain in her lower back at her matrimonial home in Kanjuru village of Kisumu’s muhoroni sub county. At the time she was seven months pregnant carrying her third child. Her husband is a small trader at the nearby Chemelil township.

On the fateful day Akinyi recalls sending her second born son to her neighbour to seek for help as her ailing state took toll on her vulnerable body. Luckily for her, the neighbour quickly mobilized for a motorcycle popularly known as ‘bodaboda’ that rushed her to Chemelil public health center, the nearest affordable facility situated 8km from her residence.

Melvin Akinyi a beneficiary of the drone services posing with her two month old baby at the health facilty

Mrs Otieno had to endure a one-hour motor ride on a hilly terrain of Kanjuru, which is tucked in vast sugarcane plantation of Chemelil and surrounded by rough meandering murram roads often used by trucks ferrying sugarcane to nearby factory to reach her destination.

On arrival, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure where the health practitioners ordered for a drug to normalize her blood pressure from Zipline drone services in Kisumu. “And in a matter of minutes my health was restored and I was determined to fight for my life to see another day” Atieno said.

Across in the neighbouring ward of Kakomo, ten-year-old Moses Ochieng on his way home from Quarry primary school was unfortunate to have crossed paths with a deadly black mamba at the vast sugarcane fields which left him with fang bites on his left leg. The fourth grade student was rushed to the nearby Tamu dispensary which is six kilometers away by well-wishers only to be met with bad news of lack of anti-venom at the facility. “I will forever be grateful to the kind neighbours who saved my son and the clinical officer who asked for anti-venom which was delivered by a drone in matter of seconds. It felt like we saw God with our eyes” said Samuel Ouma, the father of Ochieng.

The drone’s services also saved the life of Steve Ombete who was playing   outside their three roomed house unaware of the stray dog that had sneaked into their compound at Gayo village. As fate would have it, the dog singled out Ombete among his friends and within a split of a second had its teeth dig into the boy’s skin that made him fall to the ground writhing in pain. The boy was rushed to Chemelil health facility where the doctors ordered for aniti-rabies treatment which was delivered by a drone in less than ten minutes.

Chemelil clinical officer Beatrice Atieno attending to a patient

A clinical officer at Chemelil, Beatrice Ochieng, praises the drone services saying, “lives have been saved since last year when the drone services were launched here. There are many cases of snake bites due to sugarcane plantations and if treatment doesn’t happen fast the patients die”.

Patients who visit Chemelil health facility experience serious infrastructure challenges since most roads are not tarmacked. The facility serves over 800 patients every month with some of the cases emerging from its neighbouring Nandi county.

Luke Baraza, who heads the Zipline Logistical Company operations says, “Zipline is solving the world’s most complex challenge of on-demand last mile delivery and our goal is to build a supply chain solution that serves every human equally. Zipline adapts swiftly to challenges associated with its disruptive technology.”

The drone service was started to provide a solution that has been a constant headache in counties offering enhanced health service delivery to its residents. “There has been marked improvement on its first year of operation in Kenya in supply of medical stocks at various remote health centers thus saving them on costs, time and wastage of resources” he said.

When the drone services were launched in Kisumu, the County Governor Dr. Anyang Nyong’o appointed Dr. Jane Awuor, a health specialist to oversee the implementation of the project. “So far we have done deliveries in thousands under all registered health facilities in Kisumu thus streamlining supply value chain and giving room to transparency and accountability” Awuor confessed. She urged the Lake region economic block to leverage on this latest   technology and realize its advantages.

Zipline drone company has set up its operations base in Kisumu and is currently serving Nyamira, Homabay, Kisii and the host County. “We are working with different stakeholders to serve all the counties in the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) within our reach, and later expand in entirety throughout the Country” said Luke Baraza.

Kenya is Zipline’s fifth market in Africa after Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire. Some of the challenges the company experiences include failure to access some of the commodities such as specific blood group because the blood banks may be empty when blood is needed urgently.

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