The Luke Commission, Swoop Aero, and USAID teams smile for a photo behind the Kite aircraft.

The Luke Commission, Swoop Aero, and USAID teams smile for a photo behind the Kite aircraft. Together with the UPS Foundation and ESWACAA, the organizations are proud to announce the establishment of Eswatini’s first medical drone network.

Eswatini’s First Medical Drone Network Ready to Launch

Sidvokodvo, Eswatini
A collaboration of The Luke Commission, The UPS Foundation, Swoop Aero, Red Lightning, and USAID

[Sidvokodvo, Eswatini, December 2023] – The Luke Commission (TLC), an Eswatini-based healthcare organization, is partnering with Swoop Aero, The UPS Foundation, Red Lightning and USAID to establish Eswatini’s first-ever medical drone network.

These partners are continuing to work with officials at the Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority (ESWACAA) to complete the required documentation and standards in order to launch the network.

“We are so grateful for the responsiveness and engagement of ESWACAA,” said Echo VanderWal, managing executive director of TLC. “Their professionalism, objectivity and enthusiasm for seeing Emaswati get critically-needed medical items safely and swiftly via this drone network has been so encouraging.”

“We are honored to continue to partner with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to bring health and development innovations to all Emaswati,” VanderWal said. “This drone project is a shining example of what can happen when innovation is supported by both the private sector and by Government.”

The collaboration marks a significant milestone in delivering life-saving medical supplies to hard-to-reach and underserved communities in Eswatini. The network’s primary goal is to complement the existing supply chain and enhance the last-mile delivery of critical medical supplies, overcoming the challenges posed by rugged terrain, traffic, or impassable roads.

The drone network will offer a range of benefits, including enhanced and expedited accessibility for patients to life-saving medicines, vaccines, blood, and snake anti-venom, as well as acceleration of lab samples. All items transported by the drone network will be digitally tracked using TLC’s Luvelo digital ecosystem, which includes a supply chain application that enables accountability, transparency, and efficiency.

“With this network we will be able to precisely and safely deliver medicines, medical supplies, and more,” VanderWal said. “Deliveries that would take hours by car can take minutes by drone, and in an emergency situation those minutes can make the difference between life and death.”

Local pilots around the Kite, an automated, remote pilot aircraft from Swoop Aero, during a training session.

Local pilots nearing completion of training gather around the Kite, an automated, remote pilot aircraft from Swoop Aero, during a training session.

TLC will leverage Swoop Aero’s automated, remote pilot aircraft, the Kite. The aircraft takes-off and lands vertically, which allows for two-way transportation. A Kite can transport vaccines from a central hospital to a rural clinic, and then return blood samples from the clinic to the central hospital. The Kite can fly up to 120 kilometers on a single battery charge with a 3-kilogram payload. Each aircraft is supported by a cloud-based software suite comprising native avionics architecture, an application ecosystem for operations, and a digital twin.

The first delivery in the network is planned for early 2024. This collaborative effort exemplifies the power of innovation, technology, and community engagement in improving healthcare access and saving lives in Eswatini.

The Luke Commission:

The Luke Commission serves the most isolated and underserved people of Eswatini with free, comprehensive, compassionate health care. At the fixed-site Miracle Campus and extensive outreach network across Eswatini, TLC delivers mobile health services through 300,000 patient visits annually and serves as a center of excellence for digital solutions, compassionate medicine, and leadership development with a resilient team of over 700 local staff. 

Swoop Aero:

Swoop Aero is an Australian-based drone company providing the drone technology, technical support, maintenance, and pilot training. Swoop Aero is the technical backbone of the initiative. They have dispatched a team to Eswatini to help work with local aviation authorities, set up the sites, and train TLC staff on piloting, daily operations, and maintenance.

Red Lightning:

Red Lightning is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that conducted community awareness training and sponsored the drone network in Eswatini for the first 30 days. Red Lightning trained local staff and community leaders on general awareness of the technology, its importance, and safety precautions.

USAID:

The U.S. Agency for International Development leads the U.S. Government’s international development and disaster assistance through partnerships and investments that save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance, and help people emerge from humanitarian crises. This initiative represents USAID’s drive to achieve progress beyond programs, building on years of lifesaving partnership through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that has helped The Luke Commission to reach hundreds of thousands of people with HIV, TB, and COVID-19 prevention, care, and treatment.