Drone Pioneer Zipline Begins Life-Saving Medical Supply Deliveries Across Nigeria  

South San Francisco-based drone delivery company Zipline first earned its name through emergency medical supply deliveries across Rwanda in 2016.  Unencumbered by strict FAA regulations at home, the company was able to fill an enormous void in Rwanda’s capacity to service its population in need outside the capital of Kigali, owing to Rwanda’s poor rural road infrastructure, a condition made even worse by heavy seasonal rains.

Zipline quickly assumed responsibility for 75% of the country’s medical supply deliveries outside Kigali.  A year later it was tapped to take over  medical supply deliveries in the capital proper – creating a foreign-sponsored –but locally funded and managed – drone-based medical supply delivery system never before seen anywhere in the world.

As news of Zipline’s life-saving intervention spread, other African countries like Ghana and Kenya welcomed the drone company to repeat its extraordinary success on their own soil.  And just last year, Zipline expanded its drone medical mission into Africa’s largest and most populous country – Nigeria, with 44 million residents.

The company’s on a roll, earning plaudits from humanitarian relief agencies and governments throughout the continent.

Zipline’s operations in Cross River State are among its most advanced.  Ijaraga and Mfuma, two of the state’s primary health care centers, had previously struggled with frequent shortages of medications and delays in restocking, severely compromising patient care.  Many patients had stopped coming to the centers, fearing long waits and shortages of badly needed medications. No longer.  Since partnering with Zipline, both centers have re-established efficient and reliable healthcare services for their patients – and their client rolls are booming.

“Zipline’s drone technology has been a game-changer. We no longer need to travel; a simple phone call or text message ensures prompt delivery of the necessary drugs, reducing wastage and drug expiration,” says Augustine Okpotu, Ijiraga’s health center director.

Dr. Raphael Ochim, who directs Mfuma’s center, says patient satisfaction has skyrocketed since they began partnering with Zipline.  “Patients are happier, and the number of visitors to our facility has increased. Many are impressed by the sight of drones delivering drugs, which has boosted their trust in the quality of our medications.”

Another new Zipline drone hub is Kaduna State in northwestern Nigeria. The state’s  main center, one of three, is staffed by 25 people and serves a 8,000 square mile area. The Kaduna operations are especially challenging because of terrorist violence in the region which often disrupts road transportation, making Zipline’s deliveries all the more needed – but also more precarious.  Zipline follows strict security protocols, including high-altitude flying and the establishment of drone landing zones at a distance from known zones of conflict.

“We’re aware of how difficult it is to transport medicines across Kaduna due to incidences of banditry, insecurity, and instability,” says Daniel Marfo, Zipline’s senior vice president for Africa. “To just move a few medical products from Kaduna city to the west of Kaduna, you need a military convoy. The [residents] there are really in a very difficult position.”

All told, Zipline now serves over 13 million Nigerians in the three states of Kaduna, Cross River, and Bayelsa, an area covering 46,000 square kilometers and including 1,000 local healthcare facilities.  That makes Zipline/Nigeria the largest drone-based medical supply delivery operation anywhere in Africa – and indeed, anywhere in the world.

Zipline isn’t stopping there. It recently began medical supply deliveries in rural Ohio on the heels of delivery systems in remote areas of North Carolina and Utah.  It also has medical supply operations underway in remote coastal areas of Japan.  With over 100,000 healthcare product deliveries and nearly 7 million products delivered globally thus far, Zipline is proving what drones can do to save lives and fill in gaps in medical care among some of the world’s neediest patients.

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