An American company with specialization in medical product delivery, Zipline, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kaduna State government to facilitate the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines using drone technology.
The South San Francisco, California-based company, which designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones, in the recent MoU commits to helping the Kaduna State government to distribute the vaccines, expected in the country latest by April, in the difficult terrains of the state.
The Kaduna State government, according to the Special Adviser to the governor on Media, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, took the major revolutionary step to reverse the losses to Covid-19, which has cost the state 57 lives, as of Saturday, February 6. According to statistics from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 7,804 persons have been infected with the virus in the state. While 7,467 persons were treated and discharged, 280 cases are on admission.
With the first-of-its-kind innovatory MoU, however, Zipline would deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), better known as drone technology, to deliver vaccines and other medical supplies to areas that may be difficult to penetrate due to challenging topography and bad roads.
This method of procurement and distribution of vaccines and medications is a novelty in Nigeria pioneered by the Kaduna State government.
Other states are reportedly negotiating with the company to enter a similar working relationship.
The clamour for the company’s services is influenced by the success rate of the medical delivery firm, which has the distinction of having delivered more than one million doses of other vaccines in Africa over the past year.
The novel delivery of vaccines and other drugs in Kaduna is planned to start in the second quarter with 30 drones working full-time from three distribution centres.
To accomplish this goal, the state Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, said the state government has upgraded 255 primary health centres, installed a pharma grade warehouse and is recruiting and training 3,000 officers to manage the facilities.
The working relationship between the Kaduna State government and Zipline, according to Adekeye, will help the state to overcome the challenge of cold-chain storage, while allowing drone shipment of Covid-19 vaccines.
“It will help ensure that millions of people in Kaduna State will always get the care they need,” el-Rufai said after the signing of the MoU.
The governor explained that the deployment of the drone technology will ensure that medical consumables will be delivered to many parts of the state facing security challenges and a bad road network.
In December 2020, the Kaduna State governor went into self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
“As a survivor of the deadly disease his willingness to deploy drone technology in the fight against Covid-19 ahead of other states and the federal government is a clear demonstration of empathy with victims and the love for his people,” a senior state official said yesterday.
The collaboration between Kaduna and Zipline follows a similar partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) Nigeria, which last year supported the screening of 2,306 persons for Covid-19 and 2,506 persons for Tuberculosis (TB), using Chest X-Ray, and GeneXpert machine through mobile testing in Kaduna State communities.
The state is reportedly faced with an over 50% reduction in hospital attendance and access to services due to disruption of routine essential services and programmes resulting from prioritization of Covid-19 response.
In renewed efforts to tackle the virus alongside TB in Nigeria, WHO Nigeria in collaboration with the state government and KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, co-facilitated implementation of an integrated community testing for the two disease conditions using a mobile itinerant TB diagnostic facility called “Wellness On Wheels” Truck (WOW Truck).
This year, the population of Kaduna State is estimated at 1,133,000, occupying a land area of 46,053 km². The state is ranked 4th by land area and 3rd by population in Nigeria. Sixty-six percent of the state’s 2021 budget of N246 billion christened ‘Budget of Renewal’ is “devoted to capital expenditure to support the government’s commitments to education, health, infrastructure, and agricultural development while 34 percent is devoted to recurrent expenditure.” Governor El-Rufai said 2021 will be “used to fully deliver on the government’s campaign promises to the electorate, having lost the greater part of 2020 to the Covid-19 pandemic and other civil unrest that bedeviled the entire country.”
A few years ago, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Office of Innovations realizing that the need to deliver life-saving materials in both humanitarian and development contexts can face a range of challenges started to use drone technology to address transport, connectivity and better emergency preparedness in some African and Asian countries.
Zipline was at the centre of this, operating distribution centres in Rwanda, Ghana, and the US.
The company began drone deliveries in Rwanda in 2016.