Drones set to deliver blood and medical supplies to Ghana's hospitals

  • Ghanaian lawmakers have approved the deployment of drones to deliver medical supplies around the country.
  • The scheme, which will pay U.S. firm Zipline around $12 million for the technology, has been criticised by doctors and politicians.
  • Ghana’s government says the project will save lives.
A Zipline drone delivers blood to a remote hospital in Rwanda. 
Cyril Ndegeya | AFP | Getty Images
A Zipline drone delivers blood to a remote hospital in Rwanda. 

Ghana's government has signed a deal with a U.S. firm that will see unmanned drones delivering blood and other medical supplies to hospitals and clinics.

U.S. tech company Zipline signed an agreement to lead the four-year project earlier this week. During the four-year term, Zipline will earn more than $12 million, according to the BBC.

Ghana's government has insisted the deal will see critical medical supplies reaching disconnected areas and improve the nation's overall medical supply chain. Politicians approved the scheme in parliament on Tuesday, a Ghanaian media outlet reported.

When fully deployed, Ghana will become the first country in West Africa – and the largest in the world – to implement a delivery system of this kind. A date for the launch of the project is yet to be specified.

'Misplaced'

However, the scheme has faced criticism from some of Ghana's lawmakers and medical professionals, who have argued that it is costly and has had insufficient consideration.

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) called for the suspension of the drone delivery rollout, saying in a statement on Tuesday that the scheme focused too heavily on expensive technology when funding for medical professionals should be a higher priority. According to a BBC report, Ghana's population of 29 million has only 55 working ambulances.

"The proposed services to be provided by the drones do not conform to the existing primary healthcare policy in Ghana," the GMA said. "The use of drones without the necessary improvement in the human resource capacity will not (contribute) to the benefit of the country in its quest to improve healthcare delivery."

Meanwhile, opposition politician Cassiel Ato Forson slammed the deal as "inflated and misplaced" in a statement on Tuesday.

"(Vice president Mahamadu Bawumia) has failed to own up and explain the many inflated cost items inherent in the contract," he said, claiming that public funds would pay for the scheme which included 20 percent late payment fees.

"This Zipline deal is an extremely bad one for the country and it unfortunate that the Vice President would champion it with the zeal that he has deployed," he added.

'Life saving' technology

Ghanaian lawmaker Tina Mensah told the media earlier this week that the drone scheme would be rolled out to remote areas "very soon."

"Instead of transporting essential healthcare products by vehicle which would take a lot more time, the drones can deliver within the shortest possible time so lives could be saved," she said.

Dr Anthony Nsiah Asare, director general of the Ghana Health Service, added that the government should deploy the technology as quickly as possible, noting that a similar service in Rwanda had improved healthcare delivery.

The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority will create an air corridor for the drones to prevent collisions with larger aircraft.

Gaining traction

Governments in developing countries are increasingly deploying drones as healthcare solutions.

Malawi is currently trialling a scheme where drones transfer blood samples to and from hospitals to speed up HIV diagnoses in infants. In Papua New Guinea, samples from people in remote areas with suspected tuberculosis are being delivered to hospital via drone.

Rwanda has already deployed drones to deliver supplies and blood to doctors in rural locations.

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