After many months of setup work, DR Congo’s medical delivery drones are finally taking flight thanks to Swoop Aero, VillageReach, and the DRC Ministry of Health. The Swoop Aero team announced it was in the country back in October of last year.
Since December, the drones have been in the air as a part of tests to ensure all the systems are working. In that time, 164 drone flights were conducted transporting 32 kg of medical supplies and immunizations to communities in the Équateur province.
The drones visited 14 healthcare facilities using a network of seven drone sites. More than 620 children were able to be vaccinated due to the drones being in the sky.
Back in mid-2019, Swoop Aero began working with the government of DR Congo and VillageReach to begin delivering vaccines to remote villages using drones. Fifty flights spanning over 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) delivered 25 kg of immunization products, medicines, and medical supplies within five days of being operational.
Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Eteni Longondo, shared:
The integration of drones into DRC’s health supply chain is a significant step toward equitable access to health care for the country. The commencement of these flights means thousands of children will have increased access to immunization services. It also means that there is an additional mechanism in place for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Drone operations in the area were set to expand in March of last year, just as COVID-19 started to shut down the world. COVID-19 resulted in a travel ban on Australians, including those who work at the Melbourne-based Swoop Aero. After months of delay, the team has finally been able to get travel exemptions to head over to DR Congo to resume drone deliveries before the end of October.
Swoop Aero isn’t new to drone medical deliveries. They have been working with remote villages in Africa to deliver blood samples to hospitals, helping fight against measles, tuberculosis, and HIV, among other tasks. Since February, the company’s fleet size has doubled to keep up with the previous demand, and it will continue to grow.
Swoop Aero’s drones can complete roundtrips of around 260 km (162 miles) and can carry up to 10 test kits or up to 50 vials of blood. The drones have a wingspan of 2.4 m (nearly 8 feet) and are required to fly below 122 m (about 400 feet) to ensure they don’t collide with crewed aircraft. The flights cost around AUD $10 to $15 (USD $6.45 to $9.67), which is significantly cheaper than crewed transport over such a large distance.
Photo: Swoop Aero