Ghana is using delivery drones from U.S.-based startup Zipline to enable it to test people more quickly outside major cities for the novel coronavirus, the company said on Monday.
Ghana has 834 confirmed infections and nine people have died from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.
Zipline operated its first coronavirus test flight on April 1 and will now fly samples collected from more than 1,000 health facilities in rural areas to laboratories in the capital Accra and to Kumasi, the second-largest city.
“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 release.
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 coronavirus sample flights.
The company said using drones would cut the delivery time for test samples from hours, with trucks needing to traverse rural roads to collect tests from multiple hospitals, to under 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.”
Zipline is an American medical product delivery company headquartered in South San Francisco, California that designs, builds, and operates drone aircraft. The company operates distribution centers in Rwanda and Ghana. The company began drone deliveries in Rwanda in 2016 and primarily delivers blood. In addition to whole blood, the drones deliver platelets, frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate. As of May 2019, more than 65% of blood deliveries in Rwanda outside of Kigali use Zipline drones. In Ghana, the company began using drones in April 2019 to deliver vaccines, blood and medicines.