By Noelani Kirschner

An American company based in California is using drones to transport COVID-19 tests between rural Ghana and two of the country’s main cities.

Zipline International Inc. is one example of the many private U.S. companies that are stepping forward to address the coronavirus crisis internationally. But it’s the first time drones have been used to deliver COVID-19 test samples, according to media reports.

Using autonomous drones — those that fly without a navigator — Zipline reaches more than 1,000 health facilities in remote parts of Ghana, dropping test kits packed in boxes that are affixed to parachutes. Drones then fly the samples from prearranged pickup points back to the Ghanaian cities of Accra or Kumasi, where the tests are processed.

“This is also the first time Zipline has served urban hospitals,” said Keller Rinaudo, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, on Twitter. “We are now flying into densely populated cities to make these lifesaving deliveries every day.”

The company has previously used the drone technology to deliver units of blood to rural Rwanda after partnering with the country’s government.

Rinaudo says that the successful missions in Ghana mean that Zipline hopes to expand to other countries over the coming weeks.

“A new global threat requires new global solutions,” he said on Twitter.

Zipline is one of several U.S. drone companies that are adapting their services to confront the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. According to media reports:

  • In Florida, drone startup Matternet is partnering with the delivery service United Parcel Service to deliver prescription medications to retirement communities amid the coronavirus shutdown.
  • In California, the San Pablo police department used Impossible Aerospace drones to safely and publicly spread information about coronavirus safety measures to local communities.

Banner image: A drone delivers coronavirus tests in Ghana. (© Zipline)