Ziplining into Cross River State, Nigeria

First they went north; now they are in the south.

After first landing in the state of Kaduna last year, Zipline, the world’s flagship drone logistics company will be launching its operations in a second Nigerian state following its signing of a Memorandum of Association with Cross River State’s governor, Benedict Ayade. 

According to the governor, the MOU, which was signed at a ceremony in Calabar on Monday, will see the drone company launching their first medical deliveries in about 90 days. Long-term, Zipline will be delivering essential drugs and other medical products to the 1,000 health facilities in the state that serve 430 communities that have been rendered largely inaccessible for various reasons.

“Healthcare is one of our top priorities, and we are committed to creating a system in which no one is left behind,” said governor Ayade. “Zipline is a key, innovative part of our investment in our health systems. Their delivery service will help us to remove access barriers to health care and help create a more equitable and efficient system across the state.”

He expressed optimism that going forward, Zipline will be a major stakeholder in quality healthcare delivery in the state, especially when the state-owned pharmaceutical company, Calapharm, opens for business.

“When our pharmaceutical company starts running, it will be a major producer of most of these drugs and we believe that your expertise will really be needed around that area since your delivery time is just about 30 minutes. We have to have them across the three Senatorial districts to guarantee that from the point of dispatch to the point of delivery, we should be able to do 30minutes per package”, Ayade quipped.

Deriving its name from Cross River that passes through it, the state is home to nearly 3,7million Nigerians in the Niger Delta region of South South Niigeria. Most of the area is covered by rainforest, rendering some location almost impossible to access.

The Cross River government hopes its partnership with Zipline will help get medicines into remote areas in a timely manner. Picture: GHP Calabar

“To us, this is a game changer in our healthcare delivery system,” said Cross River State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Betta Edu. “Taking medicines and others to those communities alienated from the rest of us. We have over 438 hard-to-reach communities in the state. Some are mountainous, others riverine and even the creeks. These communities are very difficult to access. Taking vaccines for immunisations and reaching our people with medical supplies on time has been challenging. So, we want to deploy the drone technology to deliver drugs, vaccines, blood products, and most importantly the COVID-19 vaccines,”

The drone company plans to initially build two distribution centres that will work with the 1,000 health facilities at all hours of every day.

Construction is expected to start immediately.

Daniel Marfo, Senior Vice President of Africa at Zipline expressed his company’s excitement at expanding their operations further into southern Nigeria

“We are on a mission to transform health care systems around the world, and we’re thrilled to partner with Cross River State as they invest in innovation to improve the health of their people,” Marfo said. “Our partnership is not just about delivering medical supplies; we will also build the capacity of locals to make drones. Zipline will also build a Battery factory in Cross River State.

“We are working together to reshape how health systems work, how to best deliver care to patients, and improve health access for all people by availing it within 45 minutes of them needing it.”

To date, Zipline’s drones have flown more than 5 million autonomous miles, delivering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccines, units of blood, and critical and life-saving medications to more than a thousand health facilities serving more than 25 million people across the United States, Ghana and Rwanda.

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