Kenya: Drones set to Improve Healthcare Services in Kisumu, Neighboring Counties

By Evance Odhiambo

Delivery of healthcare services is still a challenge affecting most devolved units in Kenya and Kisumu county is no exception. The key challenge being the timely availability of emergency supplies when need emerges in the peripheral facilities.

To address this, the county has piloted the use of drones to deliver medical equipment and drugs to far flanked villages as a way of improving the county’s health provision.

This follows a previous meeting held in 2022 where an agreement was signed between Kisumu county and Zipline, a global leader in instant logistics to help in the delivery of medical equipment using drones.

Per the agreement, a Zipline distribution hub will be established and operated in Kisumu County, where it will act as the base of operations for the Zipline uncrewed aerial system (UAS) and Zipline services that will service health projects and facilities throughout other counties in western Kenya.

Governor Nyong’o operating the drone from the control room

Kisumu County Governor, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o said that the drone will be operated from Kisumu and will be used in lifesaving interventions like timely supply of anti-snake venom for snake bites, anti-rabies vaccine for dog bites and blood for mothers during delivery among others in peripheral health facilities within Kisumu County and other counties within the Lake region Economic Bloc (LREB).

‘’In fact, the attempt to stock the facilities has been counterproductive, leading to quality compromise and inflates the cost of healthcare service delivery. This is why this drone technology has come to us as a blessing. Secondly, the logistical and last mile supply of healthcare products and technologies makes it diffident to restock,’’ said Prof. Nyong’o.

Zipline Kenya General Manager, Winfred Njeri said that the use of drone to deliver medical products is fascinating, adding that the average speed of a Zipline drone is 110km/hr on air.

‘’ If Homabay County Refferal Hospital, for instance, needed three pints of blood urgently, they would be able to receive them in just about 35 minutes, isn’t this simply amazing!’’ Njeri posed.

According to her, the drone will reduce the time wastage in health product supply via road and reduce the delay in accessing life-saving interventions.

She said that the pregnant women and other sick persons will no longer have to be referred to other facilities solely because of non-availability of medicines and other health products especially those needed in emergency situations.

‘’Health practitioners who require vaccines to protect children against fatal diseases in childhood will not be required to close the facility and take a motorcycle to pick up the vaccine,” said Njeri.

Governor Nyong’o , CECM Health and Dr. Ganda in suit among other officials looking at Zipline officials doing their operations

Kisumu County Executive Committee Member for Health Dr. Gregory Ganda said that the use of drone in supplying medical equipment is a milestone in breaking the barriers the county’s health department has often experienced in delivering health products and technologies to the health facilities and subsequently to the patients.

‘’I believe in evidence – based practices as documented by science. When my team reviewed the evidence available for use of the technology, they found a peer-reviewed Lancet publication on the Rwandan experience that showed a 67% reduction in expiry of blood and blood products. Researchers in Wharton also reported an 88% reduction in facility maternal deaths due to postpartum haemorrhage. This is because blood was delivered in time to the health facilities through the use of drones,’’ said Dr. Ganda.

According to him,this technology has also been used in Ghana where studies showed that vaccine stock outs were shortened by 60% and missed opportunities due to decreased inventory work decreased by 42%. The duration in which facilities were without critical medical supplies decreased by 21% and the variety of medicines and supplies stocked increased by 10%.

‘’ Today, we are here to test the technology and launch the first flight a head of the official launch in March this year. We will also officially launch the distribution of health products including vaccines on a larger scale,” said Dr. Ganda.

Drone landing base

Governor Nyong’o on the other hand said that the livestock department is also lined up to experience and benefit from Zipline drone.

‘’We anticipate that through Zipline, the Kisumu Dairy Multiplication Centre will be able to transport semen and avoid the logistical nightmare of physically transporting animals to Chemelil for this service. Based on the evidence and experience from other countries, we are confident that Zipline will be able to maintain quality storage and maintain viability,” said Prof. Nyong’o.

He challenged Zipline and other government agencies to hasten the completion of the remaining steps that will pave way for full deployment of the technology by March this year and will be attended by all Governors within the LREB.

‘’ I have faith that all government agencies, including the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, are completing thorough processes to ensure that this system will be safe for operations,’’ Prof. Nyong’o said.

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