Ghana's parliament just approved a plan to use medical drones to deliver blood, drugs, vaccines, and other critical health supplies to remote areas, DW reports.
The country will work with Zipline, a US-based company, to quickly bring life-saving medical supplies to rural communities.
Zipline has been setting the groundwork for the project for eight months, before receiving an official green light from government officials on Monday. The team anticipates that drones could be delivering medical supplies in Ghana as soon as the first quarter of 2019.
Ghana will pay Zipline $12 million to run the delivery program over a four-year period, but corporations will likely foot the cost of medical supplies and services as part of their social responsibility efforts, the DW reports.
The drones will operate 24 hours a day from four distribution centers, which will stock more than 180 essential medical items, GhanaWeb reports.
"Everybody, everywhere should have quality care and Ghanaians are going to use drones to deliver drugs and services," announced Nsiah Asare, director general of the government's Ghana Health Service told DW.
"We believe that it is the most efficient, effective, and cheapest way to deliver to the remotest and underserved areas in the country," he said.
With the drone technology, a health center can send a request for medical supplies by text message. The supplies are then packed, launched, and lowered by parachute in 30 to 45 minutes.
"In case of accidents or blood loss after giving birth, timely deliveries of blood can be life-saving," Daniel Marfo, head of integration systems at Zipline Ghana told DW.
For women in Ghana, especially those living in remote and underserved communities where medical supplies and blood may not be in stock, giving birth can be life-threatening. The country had a maternal mortality rate of 319 deaths per 100,000 births in 2015, among the highest globally.
Zipline's drones have already has success in Rwanda, which was the first country to pilot the technology in 2016. The company delivers to more than 20 health centers and supplies 20% of blood in Rwanda, according to the company.
The majority of Ghanaian government officials are hopeful that Zipline's services could help improve health outcomes across Ghana as they have in Rwanda. However, critics say that the country should invest in roads and infrastructure before drones.
"The challenges with the health system is about the medical supply systems which are in decrepit situation," Franklin Cudjoe from the Ghanaian policy think tank IMANI told DW. "We have just under 50 or so ambulances for the country."
Ghana faces challenges ahead in balancing this project with Zipline while funding improvements to its road networks, infrastructure, and health facilities. However, drone technology could be part of the solution and save thousands of lives as soon as next year.