- A drone company delivering vaccines in Ghana, Rwanda and, most recently, Nigeria is in discussions with public and private sector partners in South Africa.
- The California-based drone start-up, Zipline, recently partnered with vaccine manufacturer, Pfizer, and has also raised around R3.6 billion in funding to expand its operations.
- The highly specialised drones can carry payloads weighing 1.8kg within an 80km range of its distribution centres.
- It's also developing an end-to-end cold chain distribution solution for temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines.
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Unmanned aerial vehicles – better known as drones – could soon assist South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine rollout by delivering doses to rural communities.
A California-based drone start-up, Zipline,has already delivered more than 2.5 million vaccine doses, along with other critical medical supplies, in Ghana and Rwanda. Since entering the African market in 2016, Zipline has played an important role in delivering life-saving medical products, like antivenom, blood packets, and vaccines for chickenpox, measles, and polio to far-flung communities.
With its own distribution centres and a fleet of almost 200 specialised drones – which can deliver payloads weighing 1.8kg within an 80km range – across Ghana and Rwanda, Zipline has caught the attention of Africa's biggest markets and global medical manufacturers.
Earlier this year Zipline entered into a partnership with the government of Nigeria – Africa's most populous nation – to assist with the delivery of medical supplies in Kaduna State. This was followed by a recently announced partnership with Pfizer, which looks to develop an end-to-end cold chain distribution solution for temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be kept in an ultra-cold freezer at between -80°C and -60°C.
"Zipline has successfully distributed tens of thousands of Covid-19 vaccines supplied by the COVAX facility to Ghana since March 2021 and has delivered over 2.5 million routine vaccines since 2019," the company said in a statement welcoming the partnership with Pfizer.
To help with its cold-chain development and expansion plans for the rest of Africa, Zipline, at the end of June, revealed that it had raised $250 million (R3.6 billion) in new funding. New investments from Fidelity, Intercorp, Emerging Capital Partners, and Reinvent Capital will be used to improve its automated-delivery systems and fleet of drones.
"Our team is in talks with public and private sector partners in South Africa," Zipline told Business Insider South Africa following news of the recent investments and plans to expand into the rest of the continent.
"Our expansion plans are often dependent on our in-country partners. With support from key partners, Zipline can be operational in less than four months. Once operational, we aim to hire fully local teams of brilliant flight engineers, flight operators and fulfilment operators, as we are doing in Ghana, Rwanda and Nigeria."