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Strengthening health supply chains in Malawi


As one of the longest sustained medical drone logistics networks globally, Swoop Aero’s operations in Malawi showcase the scale, reach and value of an integrated drone logistics platform to yield impact across many industry verticals, including routine and emergency healthcare delivery, aerial mapping, disaster management and preparedness activities, and environmental conservation activities.

Malawi North

In 2019, Swoop Aero took over operations of the USAID Global Health Supply Chain Procurement and Supply Management project in the Nkhata Bay district in the North of Malawi.

Using Nkhata Bay district hospital as our base, we rapidly scaled up existing operations, launching up to ten long-range medical drone flights per day to serve a total of eight health facilities.  With the capability to have multiple aircraft airborne at any given time, we facilitated efficient cold-chain deliveries of essential medicines and vaccines, including PCV, BCG, Polio, and HIV/AIDS antiretroviral medication as well as HIV/AIDS related testing samples, results and diagnosis equipment.

Malawi South

In January 2020, we launched a sustained multi-purpose medical air logistics and disaster relief operation in the Nsanje and Chikwawa districts of Malawi with funding from UNICEF and UKAID. The project spanned a ten-month period and facilitated the sustained and safe transportation and delivery of essential health supplies— even throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This capability was facilitated through Swoop Aero’s Remote Piloting System (RPS), which enabled our aircraft to be piloted in Malawi from our Remote Operations Centre (ROC) at the Swoop Aero Campus in Melbourne, Australia.

By combining seamless daily long-range drone deliveries with our aircraft’s ability to assist with flood mapping and disaster response, the program strengthened the health supply chain while also improving access to healthcare during the flood season for the 500,000 residents of Malawi South.

Between February and October 2020, Swoop Aero achieved the  following results alongside UKAID and UNICEF:

Since October 2020, Swoop Aero has partnered with Washington-based NGO VillageReach to sustain and scale up the existing air logistics network in the South of Malawi to a nationwide integrated logistics platform. In May 2021, Swoop Aero and VillageReach solidified a close working relationship with the Malawi Ministry of Health and Population by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between all parties to scale the drone technology-based platform across the country as one mode to advance humanitarian-related and development activities.

Between May 2021 and September 2022, Swoop Aero and VillageReach have received funding from philanthropic organisations, Focusing Philanthropy to facilitate the progressive scale-up of this national network. Together, with additional funding received from the UPS Foundation, Swoop Aero and VillageReach are expected to serve more than 130 health facilities across the South and North of Malawi. The expected value of the integrated drone logistics platform aligns directly with the Malawi Ministry of Health, Health Sector Strategic Plan II (2017-2022), specifically, inequality of access to healthcare.

Delivery of Critical Supplies

Swoop Aero’s fleet of aircraft bridge the first and last miles between hard-to-reach populations and vital medical supplies needed to improve health outcomes. Because of our unique two-way logistics capability, one flight can safely convey vaccines and other medical supplies at the required temperature for 130 km and can pick up time-sensitive test samples for the return flight. This expedites an approximately six-hour round-trip journey to under 60 minutes, as evidenced in our operations that service Nsanje to Makhanga.

In October 2021, Swoop Aero became one of the first air logistics companies globally to transport the WHO-approved malaria vaccine. The malaria vaccine, used on top of existing tools to prevent malaria, could save tens of thousands of young lives each year. With our Malawi team already delivering hundreds of vaccine doses per day, we’re looking forward to deploying our scalable and sustainable platform to save lives.

Additionally, Swoop Aero has remained an integral player in the transportation and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines since January 2022, including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. The capacity to transport these ultra cold chain health commodities enables Swoop Aero to solidify its value within health system logistics so as to transport emergency pathology samples, blood samples, emergency oxytocin and tissue samples.

The involvement of Swoop Aero in the delivery and mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign has alleviated the economic and health burden placed on the Malawi Ministry of Health and the population to address a number of existing communicable and infectious diseases. The integration of drones has proven to strengthen and expand the geographical health of the health system to bridge the last mile in access to healthcare for an estimated 3 million people in Malawi.

Upskilling Local Resources

By employing and training members from within the community, we make operations sustainable, scalable and self-sufficient to eliminate the need for Swoop Aero’s international team to be running operations on the ground.

Swoop Aero has worked collaboratively with the UNICEF-led African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) and local stakeholders to recruit, train and employ local pilots, hub operators, and network managers to run, coordinate and manage daily flight operations. As the network grows to a national level, Swoop Aero will continue to hire local crew members to manage and scale this sustained network model. To date, Swoop aero has hired 3 ADDA graduates to pilot the network and remain a key training and educational partner to the institution to support the next generation of drone pilots to scale impact across the African continent.

Swoop Aero also trains medical professionals to send and receive essential medical cargo via drone. To date, Swoop Aero has trained more than 100 healthcare staff to send and receive medical cargo via drone, which enables health facilities to respond to medical emergencies in a timely and effective manner. As the network grows, these healthcare professionals will serve as the main drivers of the network to ensure the swift and effective transportation of routine and emergency health supplies to their patients.

The value of having the healthcare professionals drive the use and operation of the network is exhibited in the improved and expanded health services offered at remote health facilities. At Kalemba, specialist pathology services were expanded due to the increased capacity of the facility to collect, transport and deliver pathology samples to the district hospital, which also increased the number of services offered at the facility, including routine vaccination clinics for preventable and communicable diseases.

Aerial Mapping and Data Collection

Between February and October 2020, Swoop Aero successfully proved the multifunctionality of the technology-based platform to conduct simultaneous aerial mapping tasks as well as routine medical commodity deliveries within the south of the country. The successful demonstration has served to optimise and diversify the Swoop Aero platform to scale up and yield greater impact within communities globally.

The successful demonstration of the multifunctionality of the integrated drone logistics network was supported by the Malawi College of Medicine, UNICEF and UKAID. The data captured through live video streaming was processed by the College of Medicine and passed to local authorities to facilitate the development of flood mapping models, disaster preparedness plans and emergency management activities. Over the coming months, this multifunctionality of the network is expected to grow in value and reach as a number of partners leverage the nationwide network to scale the impact of their business operations.

Further reading

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