Ghana is using delivery drones from U.S.-based startup Zipline to help test people for COVID-19 more quickly outside major cities.
As of April 19, 2020, Ghana had 1,042 confirmed infections, and nine people had died from COVID-19, which is caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.
“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 Chief Executive Keller Rinaudo said in a news release.
The service began April 17, when 51 COVID-19 test samples collected from patients at rural health facilities were transported to Zipline’s distribution center in Omenako, Ghana, axios.com reported.
The 51 samples were packed according to World Health Organization guidelines inside the bellies of four Zipline drones, which flew more than 112 kilometers round trip to Accra, the capital city, for testing and analysis.
Drones dropped the packages via parachute to waiting medical personnel at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. The mission marked the first time that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas, and it’s the first time drones have been used to deliver COVID-19 test samples.
Zipline will fly samples collected from more than 1,000 health facilities in rural areas to laboratories in Accra and to Kumasi, the second-largest city, according to Reuters. As of April 15, the Ghana Health Service said it had tested 57,000 coronavirus samples.
Zipline, which already operates fleets of drones in Ghana and Rwanda to deliver blood, vaccines and other essential medical equipment to rural areas, is working with the Ministry of Health to enable the COVID-19 sample flights.
The company said using drones would cut the delivery time for test samples from hours by truck to less than an hour in some cases.
It said it expects to operate the service daily “for the duration of the government’s COVID-19 response efforts.”