FREETOWN; 29 November 2019 — Sierra Leone is a step closer to fast and efficient health care delivery of medical supplies, thanks to the drone corridor launched by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio in Njala today.
During the launch, test drones were launched from the 250m runway to demonstrate the capability of drones to travel in a 200km square airspace to deliver supplies to health centers, which have traditionally experienced delays due to distances and topography.
This new way of service provision is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI).
“It is time for Sierra Leone and other developing countries to take the lead in solving our developmental challenges, such as maternal mortality. My Government has prioritised technology and innovation as an essential part of our solutions package. Using fourth industrial revolution technologies to accelerate our development goals is not an option–it is the only way we can quickly and most efficiently address the huge problems existing for our people,” said President Bio.
Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality rate is 1,165 per 100,000 live births, which is one of the highest globally. According to the Ministry of Health & Sanitation National Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health Strategy 2017-2021, almost half (46%) of all maternal deaths are due to obstetric hemorrhage or blood loss.
Women in remote rural communities like the Njala Kori Community Health Centre, which serves a population of 4000 residents, are at the most risk of maternal deaths and would therefore benefit from the speed and efficiency that drone technology will provide to the health sector.
“The facilities to store blood are not widely available, so mothers die due to a lack of blood. Drones can be used to deliver this life-saving input at a cost and speed to make a real difference as we have seen in other parts of the world.” said Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, UNICEF Representative.
A drone corridor is a segregated area and airspace where drones and drone solutions can be tested for use to support different sectors in the country. With support from UNICEF Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Office of Innovations in New York, Sierra Leone’s drone corridor will explore using aerial drones for medical deliveries, emergency response activities, agroforestry, and geospatial mapping to start. The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Civil Aviation Authority and the DSTI, is working with partners to develop a regulatory framework for drones to take flight for health service delivery and other use cases for societal impact.
Over the past weeks, DSTI has held engagements with Njala University, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide the land for the corridor. Njala has committed 73 acres in total of its property to the corridor to support the drone ecosystem. Researchers and students will gain experience and new skills in drone technology as they work with DSTI and UNICEF to test use cases for drones in Sierra Leone.
DSTI provided the technical leadership from the Government that fast tracked the construction of the corridor–their oversight will continue with the collection of data for research and decision making.
Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, said the partnership with UNICEF has made it possible for Sierra Leone to explore the use of drones for development. He noted that DSTI and UNICEF would collect data on all drone deliveries beyond today’s test launch to gain insights to inform decision making in health service delivery for women and children.
“Drone blood deliveries in Ghana and Rwanda are saving lives; we want to do the same,” he said. “Sierra Leone and its partners are developing a national innovation ecosystem where problem solvers can test and scale solutions to improve health outcomes for all citizens.”