This month, Botswana became the first country in southern Africa, and the third in Africa, to begin the use of medical delivery drones. Their aim? To bring down maternal mortality by delivering life-saving health supplies to hard-to-reach communities in a timely manner.
The initiative, called “Drones for Health,” has been made possible through a collaboration between Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Unlike Ghana and Rwanda, where US-based drone company Zipline has been delivering on-demand medical supplies to remote areas, the drone delivery ecosystem platform for Botswana has been developed in partnership with Dutch drone engineering company Avy.
The Avy Aera drone can travel a distance of 100 km on a single charge, carrying cargo weighing up to 2 kg. An uber-cool, interactive flight simulation page will show you three drones taking off from a BIUST drone port and flying to different communities of Botswana. Check it out here.
How medical delivery drones can prevent maternal mortality in Botswana
Botswana’s maternal mortality numbers are worryingly high. At 166 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country’s maternal mortality ratio is almost double the average for upper-middle-income countries.
Postpartum hemorrhage, complications after abortion, and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy are some of the chief causes of concern. Medication can effectively treat these conditions, but in this large and sparsely populated country, delivery of such medical supplies is often a challenge. A shortage of vehicles, inaccessible roads, and inefficient supply chain systems only add to the problem.
As such, Dr. Edwin Gorataone Dikoloti, Botswana’s minister of health and wellness, insists:
The need to invest in innovative options to bridge the long distances, reduce current transportation costs, overcome road infrastructure challenges, and improve the timely availability of essential emergency obstetric care drugs, commodities, and supplies is urgent.
In pilot projects, the use of medical drones slashed the delivery time from hours to minutes, meaning obstetric emergency supplies could arrive in time to save lives.
Beatrice Mutali, UNFPA Botswana country director, agrees that medical drone deliveries can be a game-changer for Botswana:
Technology and digitally driven solutions have the potential to transform healthcare, particularly for women and girls in underserved communities, often left behind due to geographical proximity. At UNFPA, we envision a world where no woman dies while giving life, and this initiative promises to alleviate the problem of maternal deaths in Botswana.
In 2017, Botswana set a national maternal mortality ratio target of 54 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030 to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. The use of drones is likely to help Botswana to meet these SDG targets.
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