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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports Drones in Sierra Leone for medical supply chain innovation

On 20th, October 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a grant of $131,130 to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) to support the proposal for the design of a sustainable and cost-effective drone-delivery model for integration into Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain.

This is a supplement to the grant that was previously awarded for the support of The Integrated Geographic Information System (iGIS)  Portal, a cross-sectoral spatial data infrastructure and geodatabase.

“When DSTI presented their vision to the Interagency Supplies Group on UAS I was determined to support them. I had been aware of the project from a distance, but it was important to hear the clear articulation of how they planned to work across the different departments of the Sierra Leone Government, and with UNICEF and Crown Agents. Supporting and empowering DSTI helps ensure this is Government-led, that partners selection is consistent with Government procurement protocols and that there is a plan to fund implementation in the medium term that donors can get behind.” David Sarley, Senior Program Officer- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The National Development plan has as one of its strategic objectives, “to transform the health sector from an under-resourced, ill-equipped, and inadequate delivery system into a well resourced and functioning national health-care delivery system that is affordable for everyone and accessible to all.” Consequently, optimizing the speed, responsiveness and efficiency of the existing medical supply chain, through the use of drones to improves access to essential medical supplies, could be a key factor in influencing that outcome.

As an affordable technological device, a drone has the potential to provide increased access to areas in Sierra Leone previously thought too remote or unnavigable. Drones can complete a trip, in under 90 minutes from a single, central location on a drop-and-return basis. This provides leaders and decision-makers in the Ministry of health and Sanitation (MoHS), the following:

  •  a real-time, on-demand delivery strategy for cold chain essential medical supplies  
  •  a cost-effective, timely option for hospitals  and rural community health centres restock rural community health centres to restock 
  •  amplify logistics capabilities by extending the current limited diagnostic coverage 
  •  a rapid-response strategy to pathogen outbreak 

DSTI, in collaboration with the National Medical Supply Agency (NMSA), and their development partners, intend to design a 5-year project to integrate a national drone-based, multi-commodity, medical delivery system in Sierra Leone. This builds on the existing rapport and collaboration with UNICEF Sierra Leone Innovation Office. UNICEF, through the UNICEF Innovation Fund provides resources to quickly assess, fund and scale companies, teams, and ideas that have been developed in new and emerging markets. The Innovation Fund supports the generation of open source, public goods that address the most pressing challenges facing children. It was under this mandate that the collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF SL was forged, leading to the establishment of West Africa’s first Drone / UAV / UAS testing corridor in Sierra Leone in November 2019.  

“In Sierra Leone, innovation is not an option. It is our determination to use fourth industrial revolution technologies to solve our most intractable problems. To see our work in drones, advance from idea, to a drone corridor, and now being projected on a flight path is incredible. The day when lives will be saved because of cost-effective national drone delivery mechanisms is upon us in Sierra Leone. With the partnerships being created and led by government, the impact will be transformational.” Dr David  Moinina Sengeh, CIO 

In line with the objective of developing Sierra Leone’s drone ecosystem organically, the design team will be putting out an expression of interest inviting suppliers to demo multiple use cases and UAV capacity in the corridor to inform the final proposal document. A scholarship would be awarded to the supplier selected using the grant resources.  

The Managing Director of the NMSA, Dr Lawrence Sandy, hopes that the introduction of drone technology will support and enhance the timely delivery of critically needed medical commodities such as blood products, and temperature sensitive drugs like oxytocin to remote and hard to reach communities. He continued by saying, 

“This would save precious lives, empower our health workforce, and strengthen our healthcare systems. A healthcare system is only as good as having the ability to deliver critically needed life-saving products at service delivery points to treat, prevent and reduce disease burden on individuals and communities. As a nation, we’ve made significant strides over the last two years to optimize our drug distribution systems. We are with a strong view that this innovation will reduce our maternal and child mortality and morbidity, improve health outcomes and strengthen our supply chain into a more resilient outfit. We look forward to a fostered partnership and close collaboration on this national drone project.

To make any inquiries, send an email to drones@dsti.gov.sl

Blog

Government of Sierra Leone’s open source initiative “OpenG2P” developed during COVID-19 announced as a UN Digital Public Good

The UN-based Digital Public Goods Alliance adds OpenG2P as a digital public good in alignment with the Digital Public Goods Standard.   Bootstrapped by a dynamic group of innovators at the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI), Government of Sierra Leone, “OpenG2P” emerged out of the 2014-2016 Sierra Leone Ebola Payments Program, and is developed as a set of open-source building blocks to help Governments worldwide digitize their social protection programs. 

In today’s Covid-19 pandemic, accelerating cash transfers is the single most important response to getting assistance in the hands of frontline workers and vulnerable groups in a timely and transparent manner.  However, many governments across the world are hampered by limited interoperability within their nascent digital infrastructures such as identity, payment ecosystem, and social protection enrollment systems. OpenG2P creates a framework to digitize cash transfer programs through a set of open source, free to use, digital solutions that build on existing infrastructures to address country-specific gaps. 

Dr. David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI and one of the architects of OpenG2P said; “Mobilizing cash transfers and payment of beneficiaries through digital bank accounts and mobile wallets is not the singular magic potion that solves governments’ Covid-19-related social protection challenges. But it is a critical step to ensuring that the right people get the resources they need in a transparent way. This is why today we are proud to be recognized for our work within government and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The ultimate goal of OpenG2P is to provide a seamless solution that helps governments increase the efficacy of their economic relief, maximize choice for their citizens, and improve financial inclusion while protecting their right to data privacy and informed consent.

“These complexities around implementation will be solved by building a collaborative cross-sectoral ecosystem that can continually verify, enroll and pay with improved transparency, accountability, and choice for citizens,” said Mr Salton Massally who is the technical lead and architect of OpenG2P.

OpenG2P is also selected as one of the 7 key projects along with MojaLoop, Mifos, and MOSIP by the Alliance’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice to help advance the Secretary General’s digital cooperation roadmap to achieve greater financial inclusion and meet the sustainable development goals by 2030. As such, Paul Maritz, a seasoned early stage open source investor, will provide catalytic co-funding for the reference implementation of OpenG2P in Sierra Leone through the Digital Inclusion Foundation

DSTI collaborated with key partners Mifos, DIAL and iDT Labs on OpenG2P through voluntary non-financial contributions of James Dailey and Ed Cable of Mifos, Salton Massally and Keyzom Ngodup Massally as independent advisors.

Blog

“Drones in Salone” Weekly Webinar kicks-off on May 15 – Join the Conversation!

DSTI will host a weekly webinar to examine the use of drones before, during, and after the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sierra Leone has the only national drone corridor in West Africa, the second on the continent after Malawi.  The “Drones in Salone” webinar is a platform for  policymakers, regulators and private sector drone experts to discuss emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities and benefits in the local drone ecosystem. 

Drone enthusiasts, innovators, media and the general public  are invited to participate in the panel discussion every Friday starting May 15, 2:00 PM GMT via Zoom.

The theme for the first-panel discussion is “The Role of Drones in the Covid-19 Response”. Speakers include; Edmond Nonie, UNICEF; David Manley, DSTI; Koinguma Baimba, Flying Labs Sierra Leone; James Houghton, Crown Agents Sierra Leone; Samuel Nonie, TYB Holdings; and Michael Duff, Drone Video Journalist.

The UNICEF backed Drone Corridor was launched in November 2019 by H.E. Julius Maada Bio, a demonstration of Sierra Leone’s high-level commitment to technology and innovation. Since the launch of the corridor,  drones have been used for medical delivery and most recently for surveillance during the government-mandated lock down to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Next week the “Drones in Salone” Webinar will take place on May 22, at 2:00 PM with guests including; Minister and Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, and representatives from the World Bank Sierra Leone and the World Economic Forum. Visit @DSTISierraLeone on Facebook and Twitter for weekly updates.

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