The Green Corridor: Cures from the Sky! Healthcare Distribution is Driving Itself Into a More Environmentally Friendly Direction
The Green Corridor:Cures from the Sky!
Healthcare Distribution is Driving Itself Into a More Environmentally Friendly Direction
by Timothy Foote, Founder of Susymbio
Healthcare and saving the environment do not at first seem a natural fit. Disposable masks and tons of one-use equipment is associated with much of the medical experience we all have received. This tends to demonstrate that the industry is hopelessly linked with a tremendous amount of waste and therefore linked to emissions which damage our planet.
While materials science struggles to provide more environmentally friendly disposable materials, improving the logistics for health services delivery is also something vital for our planet.
Blood Bank in the Sky
A little over a month ago I attended an SGInnovate event which highlighted the advances being made in the drone delivery space. On the panel was a company named Zipline, which is based in Silicon Valley. Amazingly their blood delivery drone operation in Rwanda distributes 70% of that nation’s blood. Terence Yeo, Head of New Markets, told me that this is not simply adhoc delivery runs either, but routine distribution.
All of this is being done with emissions free electric UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). The advantage for delivery using this method are many. There is the ability to centralise the storage of blood for maximum efficiency. Because of the flying capability’s, there is no traffic or route issues. Additionally, the superior speed vs. ground transportation is unquestioned. Zipline’s fixed wing UAV delivery systems in Rwanda are moving at 100 kilometers per hour with no stop lights. It’s not all about blood either. UAVs or “drones”, well known in the military world are slowly but surely making life better in the civilian world when speed and security are highly prized.
In addition to blood distribution, Zipline also operates drones In Ghana where they were able to get vaccines out, countrywide to fight COVID 19. The project started in 2019 and by March of 2022, these electric fixed wing drones had delivered over 1 million vaccines in addition to other healthcare related deliveries.
Early Adopters Making Gains
A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey which looked at effects of drone delivery on healthcare showed that Ghana was able to decrease stockouts of vaccines in general by 60%. They reduced the number of health service closings caused by no supplies by 21% while increasing the variety of other medicines on hand for use by health practitioners 10%. As a result Zipline’s business and reach in Africa is expanding.
Ironically, it is developing nations that are at the forefront of efficient and sustainable healthcare UAV delivery. When talking to Terence and other leaders in drone delivery – this seems to be due to the fact that governments in developing countries are more dynamic when it comes to opening up airspace for commercial UAV services. If air traffic control standards were adjusted to accommodate for live shipment data and actual routes being generated, then perhaps there could be more metropolitan areas allowing safe delivery services.
Drone delivery is very much encouraged and allowed in advanced metropolitan areas when there are appropriate user cases. Singapore for example has allowed for delivery to ships in its waters. Skyports’ Sanjay Suresh told me how he operates delivery operations that improves not only the speed of delivery, but also safety. While delivering medicines, food and spare parts, Skyports electric drones by design also eliminate all of the carbon emissions and much of the danger in ship to ship cargo transfers.
We can hopefully expect more and more growth in this sector. A major challenge though is actually finding enough UAV pilots. Additionally, regulations created for airplanes and helicopters are still often creating barriers to advancing investment and innovation in drone delivery services.
Initiatives for more Sustainable Health Care Delivery
This list can be a long one, but I want to boil this down for a regular distributor of health care products:
- Reduce long-haul jet flights as much as possible
- Incentivise carbon-neutral warehousing practices for your stored goods
- Incentivise carbon free delivery (be it by EV, UAV or EV land transport)
- Continue to press for biodegradable materials for product packaging where possible.
Healthcare distribution is an area where saving lives is the primary purpose. For this reason, it is likely that governments will be allowing use of UAVs in this sector before others. So, when I am interested to learn about the latest advances for UAV delivery, I’ll be keeping an eye on the healthcare sector – as well as an eye on the sky.