The Lancet publishes results of study on drone use to deliver blood

A new research paper has been published in The Lancet, following a study on the use of drones to deliver blood products to remote health facilities in Rwanda.

The document, titled “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” is the result of work by researchers who were supported by a Foundation Scheme Grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

In 2016, the Government of Rwanda initiated drone deliveries of blood products to 20 health facilities across the country, in order to decrease delivery times, reduce stock-outs of blood components, and digitise the supply chain. Working with Zipline, the company provided an autonomous aerial delivery system to enable distribution to different geographical locations in the country, where distribution hubs were equipped with up to 20 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to make deliveries.

The study had two approaches: to conduct a cross-sectional comparison of delivery times between drone and traditional road delivery using a Wilcoxon signed-rank test, and an interrupted time series analysis to assess changes in blood component expirations, before and after the 2016 drone use agreement. To evaluate the effect of drone delivery, researchers extracted data on the monthly number of blood component expirations from Rwanda’s Health Management Information System (HMIS).

Researchers found that the mean drone delivery time was 49.6 minutes: 79 minutes faster than existing road delivery methods based on estimated driving times, and 98 minutes faster than Google Maps estimates.

As well, the researchers noted a decrease of 7.1 blood unit expirations per month, following the start of drone delivery, translating to a 67% reduction 12 months into the process.

Concluding that drone delivery led to faster delivery times and less wastage, researchers note that future studies should investigate the cost-effectiveness of these improvements. Additionally, they suggest that studies should examine whether drone delivery could be effective for other pharmaceutical and health supplies.

The researchers involved included; Marie Paul Nisingizwe, Pacifique Ndishimye, Katare Swaibu, Ladislas Nshimiyimana, Prosper Karame, Valentine Dushimiyimana, Jean Pierre Musabyimana and Clarisse Musanabaganwa, along with joint senior authors Sabin Nsanzimana and Michael R Law.

To read the study in full, please click here.