Ghana will in October introduce drones in delivering essential medicines to remote communities in a move to ensure successful implementation of the Universal Access to Health Care (UHAC) and to end AIDS by 2030.
The drones would convey essential medicines like epidemic and viral load samples and most importantly, blood, and would make Ghana the second in Africa after Rwanda to use the drone technology and innovation in health care delivery.
Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director General of the Ghana Health Service, disclosed this in an interview with the Ghana News Agency after he had participated in a panel discussion session, as part of the ongoing 22nd International AIDS Conference being held at the RAI Convention Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The session was on the theme: “Ending AIDS Epidemic and Achieving Universal Health Coverage by 2030 in Africa”.
The five-day conference on the theme: “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges,’ is being attended by about 18,000 participants from around the globe, including researchers from various disciplines, medical professionals, public health and community practitioners and policy planners.
The AIDS 2018 conference aims at promoting human rights based and evidence-informed HIV responses that are tailored to the needs of particularly vulnerable communities, including Persons Living with HIV, displaced populations, men who have sex with men, people in closed settings, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, women and girls and young people and collaborate in fighting the disease beyond country borders.
Dr Nsiah-Asare explained that the decision to use the drones followed Vice President, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia visit to Silicon Valley, San Francisco where he met officials of Zipline company, one of the biggest start-ups using drones, to provide medical equipment and services to remote areas.
He said the team from Zipline followed up to Ghana and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with them, adding that, the service agreement had been made and approved by cabinet, which was currently going through the system to the National Procurement Authority.
He noted that the government of Rwanda recently partnered with Zipline to deliver blood and other much needed supplies to rural villages but in Ghana “they will bring the materials to Ghana and build the equipment there and that will also create jobs for our citizens since they will employ procurement, specialists, laboratory technicians and IT specialists and engineers.”
He said the second phase would be having one in every region. It will fly a maximum one hour to drop commodities and return. The drone will carry a weight of 1.5 to 2 kilos to serve hard to reach areas as well as CHPS compounds.
The Ghana Post, he explained, would also be using the drones to drop their Expedited Mail Services (EMS) to their various destinations.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said a committee had been formed with the Ghana Civil Aviation, who have visited Rwanda to see where the drones would be flying.
Our idea will be bigger than that of Rwanda since theirs is only for the transportation of blood but we are extending it to include other epidemic samples and viral load samples to save lives by preventing such essential medicines to be driven on the rough roads for hours and days for long distances.”
The drones would be dispatching essential commodities on piloted bases in three zones- southern, middle and northern and would be supplying commodities to regional facilities and districts, which have medical stores for safe storage.
“This he noted, will help cut down waste in the system, save money as well as save lives since it will take a maximum of one hour to convey the commodities when needed, adding that, “It will take just small quantities as and when they are needed.”
On AIDS, Dr Nsiah-Asare said to ensure that no one was left behind, some critical measures have been put in place to address the issues of Access, Equity, Stigma and Discrimination and Partnership, adding that, it would also help ensure Ghana attained the target of the 90/90/90 and ending AIDS by 2030.
Among measures to end AIDS by 2030 are the development of a national Viral Load (VL) scale-up plan for Ghana from 2017-2020 of which three high through-put VL machines have been installed as centres of excellence and MOU signed with a courier service (Ghana Post) for enhanced VL specimen referral and reporting.
He said Ghana’s health sector leadership has prioritized partnerships for research, regarding UHC innovations and best practices towards 90-90-90 and global health security.
“UHC is supported by moving health services to the communities, developing sustainable and diverse health cadres and health actions, empowering women and vulnerable populations, and improving health providers, household and community interaction.
This trajectory to UHC involves systems strengthening, innovations in strategies and programs, prioritization of actions including those on the 90-90-90 HIV targets, and advancing sustainability”.