Forget That Amazon Package: This Funder Wants Drones to Deliver Humanitarian Aid

There are so many moving parts and unknown variables in the humanitarian aid supply chain—not to mention broken links—that keeping track of deliveries, inventory, and shipments can be a logistical nightmare. We're often talking about supply chains that are being constructed on the fly, in the face of sudden disasters. No wonder aid distribution can be so difficult to manage. 

Many humanitarian funders are always looking for ways to improve aid delivery in a manner that is cost-effective and adaptable to different situations. But few are as dialed in to exploring innovative methods to get critical supplies where they need to go, and as quickly as possible, as the UPS Foundation—which recently launched a new project to further improve humanitarian aid delivery.

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The UPS Foundation has partnered with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the California-based robotics company Zipline to examine the use of drones as a viable method to deliver lifesaving supplies and medicines to remote regions around the world. The foundation is supporting the initiative, scheduled to launch its first drones in Rwanda later this year, with an $800,000 grant.

For now, the partners are focusing their attentions on delivering blood and blood products to 21 transfusing locations across Rwanda in an effort to decrease maternal deaths due to postpartum hemorrhaging. Postpartum hemorrhaging is the number one cause of maternal mortality worldwide, with Africa having the highest prevalence rate. The partners intend to expand its medical supply delivery via drone program to include vaccines, essential lifesaving medicines, and treatments for disease such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The UPS Foundation no stranger to deploying cutting-edge technology for humanitarian aid delivery. In 2015, it partnered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to launch its Relief Link program.

Relief Link combines handheld scanning devices and identification cards to improve the distribution and tracking of critical supplies during disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. The program follows those supplies until they reach their final destinations and provides up-to-date inventory information. Not only does Relief Link improve emergency response and relief, but the program can also be applied to last-mile healthcare, which is widely considered a disaster in and of itself.

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The UPS Foundation’s latest joint effort with Gavi and Zipline is just another example of how important humanitarian aid logistics is to the foundation. When speaking of the new partnership, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said, “With the expertise and vision of UPS, Gavi, and Zipline, instant drone delivery will allow us to save thousands of lives in a way that was never before possible.”