Ethiopia’s first long-range drone network has completed a 30-day project delivering medical items including 6936 vaccine doses in 44 flights to six hard-to-reach communities.

The first two deliveries in the network included vaccines against tuberculosis, poliovirus, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, and hepatitis B, says an official release from Red Lightning. "These deliveries carried enough vaccines to supply these target locations for one month and marked a significant step in improving healthcare delivery in Ethiopia's most remote regions."

Australian drone company Swoop Aero's automated, remote piloted aircraft Kite can fly up to 120 kilometres with a three kg payload before requiring a battery swap, the release added. "To reach the most remote clinics, a battery swap location has been established midway, extending the network's reach to 240 kilometres from the distribution hub. The drone flies pre-planned routes that have been mapped to avoid obstacles such as mountains, power lines, and buildings. Kite, takes-off and lands vertically, allowing for two-way delivery providing the ability to speed diagnostic samples from hard-to-reach communities to central labs."

Red Lightning, a non-profit organisation, funded the 30-day project, which was operated by Freight in Time and the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), the release added. "Drone logistics is the latest phase in a multi-year initiative to bring supply chain innovation to the last mile delivery of healthcare items in the region. The Global Fund, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supply Service (EPSS) and Freight in Time formed a private-public partnership in 2020 aimed to reduce missed vaccinations, target at-risk-zero-dose children and eliminate medical item stock outs at the local level. The UPS Foundation and GAVI have provided the financial support for this PPP since 2022, and have committed an additional $1 million to continue this support through 2024."

An expansion has been approved for the project, and the medical drone network will run for an additional 90 days starting in early 2024 and the network will double in size, the release added.

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