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Drones that Save Lives

By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN
Images by ROC VERDERA

The Philippines—a beautiful archipelago that’s comprised of 7,641 islands, with a total land area of 300,000 square kilometers and recognized as one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

Behind its beauty and promising economy, however, lies a tough challenge when it comes to providing world-class healthcare for every Filipino.

With an estimated population of more than 108 million, the 2017 data of the Department of Health (DOH) shows that the country only has 476 public and 960 private hospitals. As an archipelago, the Philippines has many mountainous areas and sparse islands separated by vast bodies of water, making it tough to provide immediate health care to people in rural areas across the country in times of disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes, and landslides.

Zipline, lifeline

To conquer this challenge, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) partners with international logistic company Zipline.

An enterprise that originated in California, Zipline uses drones to deliver 150 kinds of medical products from blood and vaccines to medicines. This significant partnership makes our country the first in Southeast Asia to acquire this kind of healthcare technology service.

“It’s an opportunity for us to bring blood in areas that are very difficult to handle. Those who need help are not required to make their way to the Red Cross,” Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of PRC, tells the members of the press during the partnership launch. “The Philippine Red Cross will soon be able to reach patients at hospitals across the country within minutes. We’re going to position it where and when there is conflict, especially in Sulu or Basilan.”

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From left: Senator Richard Gordon; Keller Rinaudo; and Bono

According to PRC’s data, there are millions of Filipinos living in more than 4,000 geographically isolated disadvantage areas or GIDA, with the help of Zipline’s technology, life-saving medical supplies will be delivered to them in a faster, more convenient way.

“We’ve been pretending for hundreds of years that there’s nothing we can do. We’re working on nuclear fusion, on augmented reality, but there’s no way we can deliver a basic product, or something as simple as blood to a place it is needed,” says Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline.

“The Philippines is an amazing country faced with challenges when it comes to disaster response. We are so inspired to see that the team [PRC] is already utilizing technology, taking risks, trying new things, and that inspired us to come here.”

Bono and the life-saving drones

Zipline has been established in 2016 with the help of U2’s lead vocalist, the Irish singer-songwriter, and an activist Paul David Hewson, popularly known by his stage name Bono.

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Bono

Before its establishment in the Philippines, the logistic company has already been in different countries across the globe, from Rwanda and the US to Australia, and India, saving millions of people’s lives.

“Zipline is where all my passion is. The idea is that commerce should serve the people, not people serving commerce, and that the brightest minds shine even brighter when they work for vulnerable lives,” Bono says. “We would like to believe that we serve beyond mere profit. I have a little bit of background in global health, fighting HIV, AIDS, and epidemics in particular. I saw up close what it was like to not get access to lifesaving [medical products]. I saw it, and I felt an ache….and I’d been telling Keller that where you live shouldn’t decide whether you live. That’s why we’re here.”

For those who are wondering how this works, the company’s drones fly autonomously and can carry up to 1.8 kilos of cargo. It can fly up to 145 kilometers per hour in high winds and rain.

“Zipline’s technology is designed to work on a wide range of weathers. When people’s lives depend on us, we have to fly all the time. So we focus on making sure that we can fly about 97 percent of the time,” Keller explains to Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

To avail of this service, health workers on the affected areas just simply need to place orders via text message and they would receive the parcel in just 30 minutes, average time.

According to PRC, Zipline’s operation will kick off in the summer of 2020, eyeing the Visayas as the location of its first distribution center in the country. Each distribution zone can deliver to an area of more than 20,000 square miles and could serve up to 12 million people.

“You can take our service just like DHL or any other logistic company. We’re only charging logistics fee whenever logistics fee is required. As a company, we don’t wake up in the morning to make money, we wake up to serve people. In 2020, we will be serving around 10 million Filipinos,” Keller ends.

See more at: Manila Bulletin

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