Freddy Nkosi

Health
workers serving remote communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
must often undertake a six-day return journey to collect vaccines, traversing
dense tropical forests and often the raging Congo River and its tributaries.

Drone
technology is offering a lifesaving solution to the challenges, including
helping to ensure that cold chains are maintained, and vaccine quality is not
compromised.

 In a
presentation at the recent Africa Supply Chain in Action virtual conference,
which was hosted by SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management)
and Smart Procurement, Freddy Nkosi (pictured), DRC country director for
VillageReach, shared the “Drones for Health” success story. He noted
that while this project’s focus is on getting vaccines and supplies to
hard-to-reach rural communities, the applications of drones in healthcare
extend to congested cities, too.

 VillageReach
is a non-governmental organisation that is striving to improve communities’
access to healthcare and life-saving medicines and vaccines in remote rural
areas in developing countries. In the DRC, with funding from Gavi (The
Vaccine Alliance), VillageReach, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and
the Civil Aviation Authority of the DRC, is using drones to transport vaccines
and other supplies to isolated villages and communities.

 Nkosi
said that the Drones for Health project is being piloted in the DRC’s northwest
province of Équateur: “This is a province with many geographical challenges. It
has 18 health districts, more than half of which are only accessible by river.
This makes the supply chain and transportation of vaccines from the provincial
storage to the remote health storage facilities exceedingly difficult,
especially during the rainy season when there is often flooding.”  

A round trip
to the Équateur province, which involves taking a non-motorized boat down a
river, can take up to six hours. The drones completed the one-way journey in
just 20 minutes.

Nkosi
explains that the drones are only being deployed for the hardest to reach
locations in the DRC, which are inaccessible by motorcycle or 4 x 4 vehicle.
Cost efficiency studies are underway to assess the affordability of drones
versus conventional transport in other areas.

He noted
that the drones being used can fly up to 80km at a speed of up to 115km per
hour. 

“The
technology,” he said, “is still developing, so we can expect fewer limitations
in the future. While our drones can fly up to 80km, we are setting up
‘refilling stations’ to reach health facilities beyond 80km. For instance, if
the health facility is located 400km from the distribution centre or warehouse,
there will be five stations where the drone will land after 80km and the local
team will change the battery to enable the drone to fly to the next station.”

 Since
the drones do not include cameras, Nkosi said privacy is not an issue, and to
date, there have been no safety problems. The drones are not operating within a
15km radius of an airport, he states.

Nkosi
believes that it is only a matter of time before many countries and communities
adopt drones for deliveries, even in urban areas. He says that in the DRC’s
capital Kinshasa, the blood transfusion service is exploring the use of drones
for urgent deliveries of lifesaving blood due to the city’s poor infrastructure
and traffic congestion.

The
inaugural Africa Supply Chain in Action Conference and Exhibition was Africa’s
biggest ever online event for the supply chain and procurement profession,
bringing together hundreds of delegates from around the continent. 

“The
Covid-19 crisis has put the spotlight on supply chains and pushed supply chain
professionals to their limits. Expertise in supply chain and procurement
management, logistics and distribution has never been more important than it is
today. The imperative to ensure that businesses and economies can survive and
thrive beyond Covid-19 gave rise to this important event and the collaboration
between co-hosts SAPICS and Smart Procurement,” SAPICS president Keabetswe
Mpane, noted

This event
forms the foundation of the “ASCAnation”, which will provide supply chain
professionals across Africa with a platform from which their voices can be
heard.

 

SOURCE: Issued
by Express Communications, on behalf of SAPICS and Smart Procurement