Covid-19 has brought into sharp focus the critical importance of effective supply chain management and distribution – and the DRC is increasingly demonstrating the relevance of drone delivery to get critical medication and vaccines to hard-to-reach rural areas.
Unpacking the ‘Drones for Health’ project at the recent Africa Supply Chain in Action virtual conference hosted by SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management) and Smart Procurement, Freddy Nkosi, DRC country director of NGO VillageReach, said the scope of the project could extend to congested cities too.
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 life-saving solution to the challenges, including helping to ensure that cold chains are maintained and vaccine quality is not compromised, says Sapics.
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.
Nkosi says that the Drones for Health project is being piloted in the DRC’s northwest province of Équateur which has many geographical challenges.
And while drones are being used for the most remote areas at present, cost-efficiency studies are under way to assess their affordability versus conventional transport in other areas.
“The technology 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.”