Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Drones For Health

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One-line solution summary:

Drones will be employed to strengthen Ebola preparedness measures via lab sample transportation in Equateur, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Pitch your solution.

This project aims to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in at-risk areas around the currently affected health zones of the Equateur province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The current case fatality rate is 41.4% in these health zones. Our aim is to accelerate preparedness interventions at healthcare facilities and communities. The preparedness activities will focus on pre-positioning drones for lab sample transportation, program monitoring and operational support. This project will help reduce the incidence and prevalence of the EVD in these areas by reducing transmission rates, saving countless lives. 

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What specific problem are you solving?

Ebola Virus Disease is an infections and fatal disease that profoundly affects communities. It's current fatality rate in Equateur province is almost 50%. The current population of the communities we would serve is approximately 980,405. 

Therefore, we are looking to increase preparedness for the early detection of EVD cases in order to implement a rapid response to the EVD outbreak, and enable communities to deal with and rapidly stop the chain of transmission.

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What is your solution?

Our solution consists of utilizing drones to help transport lab samples of EVD to implement early detection rates. By using drone technology, detection rates will increase in a much more timely manner allowing for a more rapid response, including community awareness, quarantine measures and ultimately a reduction in transmission. While there is no cure for EVD, the best way to treat it is with detection and quarantine. Drones are far superior to traditional transportation methods of lab samples as they can circumvent poor road infrastructure that create obstacles for efficient movement of medical diagnostics and supplies. 

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

In Phase 2, drones will be servicing two health zone offices and 25 hard-to-reach health facilities in Equateur province. However the drones will also transport products to an additional 39 neighboring communities, increasing the number of health areas served up to 64. The total population living in these communities is approximately 1,432,143 people which will be directly affected by this project by transporting potential EVD lab samples and early diagnosis of EVD. This solution will also address the needs of the healthcare workers in the areas by making diagnosing EVD more accessible. 

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Strengthen disease surveillance, early warning predictive systems, and other data systems to detect, slow, or halt future disease outbreaks.
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Equatuer province has had 5 outbreaks of EVD. The case fatality rate was 41.4%, causing a great toll on human life and irreparable damage to livelihoods. EVD spreads quickly and most recently occurred in the urban setting of Mbandaka with over 1 million inhabitants and connects to other densely population areas. If communities are not adequately prepared or surveyed, they cannot respond and therefore cannot contain a new epidemic. This project will strengthen the EVD preparedness and early detection rate of cases that will enable a rapid response for a potential EVD outbreak and stop the chain of transmission. 

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Seattle, WA, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

We have already completed demo flights, or pilots, for our drone program in three countries. Due to the success of these, we are now increasing the network of our program in DRC to 25 communities. 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Dr. Archimede Makaya, DRC Drone Program Manager

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

With the use of drones, VillageReach will be able to overcome specific barriers that affect the delivery of supplies such as vaccines, medicines, test kits for Ebola and the collection of lab samples for EVD. Such barriers include poor road infrastructure, bridge outages and extremely remote health facilities that are hard to reach by typical transportation methods. Drone deliveries began at the end of December 2020 in Equateur province in the DRC and there are currently 10 health zones with 26 targeted health facilities. By using drones, our approach will significantly improve the timing of the response to the Ebola health crisis as they can be deployed within 72 hours and do not require any infrastructure investments. 

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Robotics and Drones
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • Infants
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

In Phase 2 of our rollout, drones will be servicing two Zone offices and 25 hard-to-reach health facilities in Equateur province.  However, the drones will also transport products to an additional 39 neighboring communities, increasing the number of health areas served to 66. The total population living in these communities is  approximately 980,405, who are all indirect beneficiaries of these services. In the next 5 years, the government plans on expanding the solution to hard to reach facilities in four new provinces. We estimate that we will serve approximately the same number of people in each of the four provinces, potentially indirectly benefiting nearly 5 million people in five years. 

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We have a number of indicators that will help to measure our progress towards our impact goals. Some of our short-term indicators that we are already measuring are related to the speed and reliability of drones as an alternative transportation method which include:  % of facilities reach with drones each month, number of flights and product deliveries and collections conducted, number of days of sustained flights, number of adverse events or incidents and % reduction in the average transport time for samples sent by drone vs. by other means. 

We also measure a number of indicators related to laboratory sample transportation including: number and type of lab samples collected, % of samples that arrive on time (within 3 days from collection) and average time to return test by drone after result is available to MoH provincial program. 

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

On our solution team there will be eight full-time staff from VillageReach. Swoop Aero will have six people in the DRC and six people on the core international team which will serve as the drone service providers. There will be 25 health workers from the MoH in the DRC.

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How long have you been working on your solution?

The Drones for Health program within VillageReach has been working on this solution since 2016 and more specifically in the DRC since 2019.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

VillageReach transforms health care delivery to reach everyone, so that each person has the health care needed to thrive.  We develop solutions that improve equity and access to primary health care, including the drones for health solution. VillageReach has partnered with stakeholders at local, regional and global levels since 2015 to explore the use of drones in health systems. VillageReach has extensive experience in developing and managing drone delivery programs from proof-of-concept flights to large-scale drone delivery operations in over 5 countries making us one of the top leaders in the medical drone delivery space. 

VillageReach has been working as a key health supply chain partner to the Ministry of Health, DRC since 2016, making us uniquely experts in both drone operations and health supply chains. Although headquartered in the US, our office in DRC team is staffed solely by Congolese public health professionals. Dr. Archimede Makaya, the DRC Drones for Health Lead, worked as a medical doctor in rural facilities in Eqtaueur Province for over seven years. He has been extremely critical for the success of our work as he has first hand experience working as one of our end users (health workers in remote facilities). Dr. Makaya, along with the Ministry of Health in Equateur Province, worked together to identify the potential for drones to solve supply chain challenges, design the drone delivery network, and implement this emerging technology in with great success in an extremely challenging environment. 

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Five years ago, VillageReach redefined and operationalized its Diversity & Inclusion value specifically to address issues of race, power and neocolonialism in the global health sector. Since 2017, we have a rotating team of D&I advisors from across our staff who work with the President and the Director, People to advise on approach, identify areas for specific attention, and drive D&I initiatives across the organization. We call this team the Diversity & Inclusion Group Core Team (DIG Core).

We inherently have a very diverse staff, spread across 12 countries globally. As a result, our efforts are focused on inclusion and equity issues, to ensure that our organization is reaping the full benefit of that diversity towards our impact. In 2019, VillageReach received a top 10 ranking in the Gender Equity Now Index of Washington State’s Most Equitable Workplaces.

Each year, the DIG Core team works with staff and leadership to set the workplan for the year. Our 2021 focus is on:

  1. Dismantling structural racism in our hiring, raise, and promotion policies  
  2. Ensuring leadership of the organization will reflect the diversity of our global team  
  3. Prioritizing D&I work in annual plans 
  4. Encouraging and recognizing personal learning, open dialogue and reflection on systemic racism and colonialism within the development sector and how racism impacts health outcomes
  5. Using our voice and our influence to increase the dialogue and discourse around anti-racism and anti-colonialism in the global health sector
  6. Increasing employee involvement in local/community issues in each of our officies


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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Government (B2G)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

We are applying to Solve for a few reasons. Aside from the financial benefits that include the initial earnings of $10,000, there we will also have access to additional funding that will be put towards are total goal of fundraising.  

There is also the great advantage of being part of the MIT-backed network that will introduce us to a variety of connections that can help build sustainable partnerships that can help us scale up our solution and develop a stronger marketshare of drone technology in Africa. This is one of the aforementioned barriers that we currently face and by having a larger network that can include diverse partnerships, we can gain valuable expertise on market development that will allow drone technology to be manufactured and based our of Africa. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
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Please explain in more detail here.

The security of the MIT Solve partnership will help VillageReach and Swoop Aero to test, validate and amend, if needed, the existing solution business model. As this technology is still in its infancy, the business models of drone services providers have changed rapidly, even in the past five years. When VillageReach first began testing drones, it was presumed that the government Ministry of Health would purchase and operate the drones, similar to how they do for vehicles. Now, we have rapidly shifted away from this model and moved towards testing “drone service provider” outsourcing model. As mentioned previously, Swoop Aero’s pricing structure for this model is based off smaller scale pilots and it would be very beneficial to gain support from business expertise on the viability and financial sustainability on this pricing structure and model. 

Additionally, as before mentioned, we are actively seeking opportunities to test the layering of additional use cases onto the medical drone deliveries to generate revenue streams that could subsidize the future costs for the Ministry of Health. The market for drone operations outside of medical delivery in DRC could be vast, when considering the countries rich natural resources, so help developing model for revenue subsidization would be extremely beneficial. 

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We would like to partner with economists and experts in market shaping who could help contextualize the data we are generating through our work to build out a case for future economically viable drone delivery in DRC. 

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The AI for Humanity Prize to advance your solution?

The AI for Humanity Prize would be beneficial to advance our solution as we are using new technology to benefit humanity as well as creating a sustainable solution to a population where few solutions exist to combat EVD. With drone technology, not only will a solution to potential epidemics be addressed, but an entire industry will be created. 


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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Global Fund Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Global Fund Prize to advance your solution?

The use of drones directly address the supply-chain for EVD lab samples and ultimately preparedness. This solution directly affects and supports community health workers and service users at the last mile by providing diagnostic capabilities and early transmission prevention.  

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Solution Team

 
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