Zipline Drone Photo: FlyZipline

COVID-19: Nigerian states deploy drones for vaccinations in challenging terrains

*Along with a decrepit road network across Nigeria, rising insecurity also means that travelling or moving medical products can be very challenging in the country, says Daniel Marfo, a Senior Vice-President at Zipline Africa

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

Against the backdrop of the spate of bad roads and widespread insecurity hampering vaccine delivery and actual vaccinations across the country, two of Nigeria’s 36 states have signed an agreement with Zipline International Incorporated to use drones to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to inaccessible and conflict-prone rural areas.

Zipline, which is based in San Francisco, United States, is completing the construction of hubs and distribution centres, as well as obtaining the approval of regulators to operate in the states of Cross River and Kaduna with a target to make the first deliveries within three months, agency report said.

COVID-19 vaccines

Daniel Marfo, a Senior Vice-President at Zipline Africa, in an interview was quoted to have said that along with a dilapidated road network across Nigeria’s countryside, “rising insecurity also means that travelling or moving medical products can be very challenging.”

ConsumerConnect gathered Mrs. Betta Edu, Honourable Commissioner for Health, in a separate interview stated that without drones, it would be somewhat difficult for Cross River State of Nigeria, which plans to vaccinate more than three million people, to accomplish that in “over 423 hard-to-reach communities.”

Edu noted that the drones would help the state to access such areas in less than 30 minutes, which will have taken about two to three days by car.

In northern Kaduna, the Kaduna State Government in an e-mailed statement disclosed that Zipline will use drones to deliver shots to “more than 1,000 health facilities serving millions of people.”

Zipline’s drones can carry 1.8 kilograms (3.97 pounds) of cargo, cruising at 110 kilometers (68 miles) an hour and have a round trip range of 160 kilometers, even in high speed winds and rain, according to Marfo.

In the meantime, Nigeria probably home to estimated 210 million people, has administered, according to the authorities, about 2million doses of the four million AstraZeneca Plc doses that it received March 2021.

It was learnt the country lags behind in attaining a target to vaccinate 70 percent of its citizens above the age of 18 by 2022.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is attempting to procure more shots to bridge that gulf and is budgeting to acquire nearly 30 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson inoculation through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, led by the African Export-Import Bank.

ConsumerConnect had reported the company currently operates in Rwanda and Ghana on the continent.

Marfo stated Zipline now plans to expand to about six more African countries in the next two years, including Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Benin and Morocco.

The firm noted that it would probably operate in eight Nigerian states during the period, according to report.

The Zipline Africa Senior Vice-President added: “We are very concerned about the hardest to reach and the poorest places.

“We’ll continue to focus our expansion in Africa and South America and part of Southeast Asia primarily.”

ConsumerConnect reports Zipline is an American medical product delivery company headquartered in South San Francisco, California, in the United States.

The firm, which designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones, began using drones April 2019 to deliver vaccines, blood and medicines in neighbouring Ghana.

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