Delivery of medical supplies across the country is set to improve in coming months following an agreement between the government and an American firm to introduce remotely piloted aircrafts, popularly known as 'drones.'
The agreement, signed between the Ministries of Youth and ICT, and that of Health on the government side and Zipline, an American robotics company, will see the introduction of drone technology in the supply of essential medical products such as blood supply to even the remotest parts of the country hard to access by roads.
According to the memorandum of understanding signed yesterday, Zipline will begin setting up its first drone port, where the drones will land and take off in Muhanga District around May, with the tests set to begin in August.
Speaking after the signing, Keller Rinaudo the chief executive of Zipline, said by using the drones, Rwanda would significantly reduce the cost incurred in the delivery of medical supplies as well as improve accessibility to even the remotest parts of the country hard top access by roads.
He said the government's commitment to use technology for social good had facilitated his firm's entry into the country.
The project's success, he said, would make Rwanda the first country in the world to commercially use drones to deliver medical supplies to various parts of the country.
"It will be the first time ever that these vehicles are integrated into an existing health supply chain," Rinaudo said.
He added that the roll-out of the technology would make it improve the response and quality of care to patients all across the country.
The choice of Muhanga as a location for the first drone port was partly informed by its centrality to all parts of the country, making it easy to deliver the supplies to even the remotest parts of Rwanda.
He noted that the project would also present job and partnership opportunities with leading engineers and medical personnel in the country.
Dr Jean Baptiste Mazarati, the deputy director-general of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said the development would make it possible to ease the cost incurred in delivering medical supplies as well as improve efficiency in delivering the supplies.
He said the technology which was a first not only in Rwanda but on the continent would be initially used to deliver blood supplies with other supplies to be included in the future.
"The use of the technology will impact our way of doing business and management of resources to improve delivery of services," Mazarati said.
This is the second international firm to express interest in rolling out the technology in the country.
In November last year, Norman Foster, a renowned British architect, expressed interest by his firm, Foster + Partners alongside business partners, to build the world's such port in the country to facilitate in transport of urgent medical supplies and electronic parts to remote parts of the region using the drones.
The project, dubbed "Redline," is mostly around research, development and training with the aim of developing a centre for excellence in the country.
In their proposal, the investors noted that beginning this year they intend to begin construction of three drone ports which will take about four years before completion.
Regulations in the offing
To facilitate the planned development, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) is in the process of drafting regulations that will soon be submitted to Cabinet for approval and to be made operational by 2016.
The authority found it important to have the framework in place to guide further developments in the technology, which is fast becoming popular as well as other progress such as port construction.
The overall aim was to ensure that the uptake of the technology was done in a secure, safe and efficient manner.
According to RCAA, the regulation drafting process involves consultations with stakeholders in the aviation industry and is also guided by the international civil aviation guidelines.
Commenting on the development, the Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, said the introduction of the technology was in line with Smart Rwanda Master Plan adopted by Cabinet last year.
The master plan, he said, was developed to accommodate emerging industries and sectors in ICT such as drone technology.
This, Nsengimana said, was to ensure that Rwanda was a leader in technology in the region and the continent.
The minister added that government was keen on building an ecosystem around the project to maximise opportunities presented.
At the moment, the technology is already in use in the country with a few drones functional.
Most of the operational ones are used for aerial view photography projects at public events and open spaces such as national parks.