No, cholera isn't the worst problem here," says the hospital director. The fatal epidemic spreading across Yemen in the last eight months, which has infected around 800,000 people and claimed over 2,000 lives, "is only the third or fourth most common cause of death here in Marib," says Dr. Mohammed al-Qubati. "Most deaths are caused by landmines."
Last month in Rwanda, a young woman started bleeding after giving birth by C-section. Try as they might, her doctors couldn't stop it. They'd already transfused the two units of matching blood that they had on-hand. They could have called the national blood bank in the capital of Kigali to request more, but ordering it, and sending it the 25 miles over mountainous roads to the hospital would take up to four hours. The woman didn't have that kind of time.
The drone makes a conspicuous racket as it lifts off on a mission to capture images of the reservoir below. The sight and sound of this strange device stirs interest among locals as they make their way to and from the town of Kasungu in central Malawi. It takes a matter of minutes for a small crowd to form. A few yards away, Patrick Kalonde is wading through grass and mud. Patrick, an intern at Unicef working on humanitarian uses of drones, is carrying a plastic container and a ladle and is looking for mosquito larvae. The contrast between high-tech drones and low-tech "bucket-and-spade" science, metres apart, could not be starker – yet both are equally important to the success of our new project to map where mosquitoes breed. Kasungu, a small town at the base of the picturesque Kasungu Mountain, is the centre of Africa's first humanitarian drone testing corridor. Set up by Unicef in 2017 with support from the Malawi government, the corridor is an 80km-wide area for flying and testing drones to help the local people. Keen to dispel the reputation that drones are only useful for destruction, the Unicef corridor promotes "drones for good".
The fight against malaria has been improving, but there's still lots more work to do. For one thing, anti-larval sprays are both expensive and time-consuming -- you can't always afford to spray an entire area. Thankfully, a mix of technology is making that mosquito battle more practical. Wales' Aberystwyth University and Tanzania's Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme have partnered on an initiative that uses drones to survey malaria hot zones and identify the water-laden areas where malaria-carrying mosquitoes are likely to breed.
Drone delivery is finally getting off the ground. And the action is happening in East Africa. Zipline, a pioneering drone startup that began delivering blood packs to Rwanda's remote hospitals in October 2016, today announced a major expansion into Tanzania. In early 2018 the company will begin flying its delivery drones to more than 1000 health care facilities around Tanzania, bringing urgently needed medicines and supplies to big hospitals and tiny rural clinics alike. Keller Rinaudo, founder and CEO of Zipline, says that "the richest companies in the world" are still trying to figure out how to make instant drone delivery work as a commercial service (as IEEE Spectrum has noted in it's coverage of Google's Project Wing and Amazon's Prime Air).