April 21, 2020: Zipline has commenced the delivery of Covid-19 test samples collected from patients in more than 1,000 health facilities located in the rural areas of Ghana to Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research laboratories in Accra. The service began on April 17, when 51 Covid-19 test samples were transported to Zipline's distribution centre in Omenako, Ghana.

It is the first time that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas, and it is the first time that drones have been used to deliver Covid-19 test samples.

In Ghana, Zipline holds all emergency stocks of personal protection equipment for the facilities it serves, like gloves and masks, allowing health authorities to target distribution to regional providers on an as-needed basis. During disasters and outbreaks, Zipline can respond to demand surges and prevent stock-outs by immediately increasing delivery volumes. New vaccines, test kits, and other innovations can be added to the inventory as soon as they are available and delivered in real-time to help meet extraordinary needs.

Zipline stocks PPEs at its distribution centres in Accra, Ghana, where they are ready for distribution
Zipline stocks PPEs at its distribution centres in Accra, Ghana, where they are ready for distribution

The 51 samples were packed according to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines inside the belly of four Zipline drones, each flew more than 70 miles/116 kilometres round trip to the capital for testing and analysis. The packages were dropped via parachute to waiting medical personnel at the Noguchi Memorial Institute.

Earlier, Covid-19 test sample delivery took so many hours to deliver samples to health centres, which in some cases jeopardised the government's ability to respond swiftly and increased the risk that the samples were damaged in transit due to broken cold-chain storage.

Zipline is also delivering samples from another distribution center in Ghana to Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (60 mile/100 kilometres round trip flight) in Kumasi, the country's second-largest city.

Instead of waiting several days for a batch of samples to be transported by truck, a single test from a rural area can be delivered for analysis in less than an hour.

Zipline is also delivering masks and other personal protective gear, as well as medicine and blood, to medical facilities in Ghana and Rwanda during the coronavirus outbreak.

"Zipline is dedicated to helping Ghana in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic," said CEO Keller Rinaudo in a statement. "Using contactless drone delivery to transport Covid-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the pandemic and help save lives more quickly."

Zipline, which had planned a US launch this fall, says it is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration to begin "emergency humanitarian operations" as soon as possible.

In the US, the company said it would focus on distributing scarce resources like test kits and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves across health systems more efficiently and effectively.

The company has been working since 2018 with the US Department of Defense - both in the US and Australia - to demonstrate how its technology could help provide critical care in conflict, humanitarian and disaster relief scenarios.

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