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Packed Red Cells – Droned to Your Doorstep

By Luc Puis

In a previous post on this website, we reported on the use of drones to deliver AEDs on the site of cardiac arrest. Today, we report on a different product delivered by drones, packed red blood cells, across various hospitals in Rwanda, Africa. A success story.

Rwanda is a relatively small country located centrally in equatorial Africa, in the Great Lakes Region. Despite its troubling colonial history, poverty, corruption, and recent civil wars, Rwanda is recovering, and the healthcare system now reaches more than 90% of the population. Recovery of the (healthcare) system has been called exemplary by many countries, including the USA. 

One of the problems the country faced was delivering blood products to different hospitals.

Rwanda is very rural, and blood is transported by car, taking much time to reach distant hospitals, and doctors ‘over-ordered’ blood to have stock for emergencies, leading to a lot of wasted blood products. To make an improvement in that, a US company called Zipline was contracted. Zipline has experience in organizing drone distribution related to healthcare, and now, two drone hubs are located in Rwanda, making over 500 deliveries a day.

The implementation has had dramatic improvements. In a publication in The Lancet – Global Health, the results of more than 13,000 deliveries were published six years following the program’s start. The following was reported: 

  • Delivery time was reduced from around two hours to about 41 minutes (mean)
  • The wastage of blood units was reduced by 67% in the first 12 months of the project

With those two drone hubs, 80% of the country has been covered, and that is not an easy thing to do. The next step is to examine the cost-effectiveness of the program.

Rwanda sets a great example here. Plans to develop this program outside of Rwanda and help out other countries in the region are being developed.


Rosenberg T. In Rwanda, Health Care Coverage That Eludes the U.S. The New York Times, 2012 (accessed 12/19/22)

Mauch A. How Drones Have Helped Solve Rwanda’s Blood Delivery Problem. Nice News, 2022 (accessed 12/19/22)

Nisingizwe MP et al. Effect of unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) delivery on blood product delivery time and wastage in Rwanda: a retrospective, cross-sectional study and time series analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2022; 10(4): e564-e569

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