For several days Delphine Twese Hamwe’s 2-year old daughter, Ghislane Ihimbazwe, had been screeching in pain as fever wracked her tiny body. A nurse at the local clinic in central Rwanda told her that an acute form of malaria was attacking her daughter’s red blood cells. There was nothing the clinic could do to save her life, so they called an ambulance. But by the time mother and child arrived at the district hospital in Kabgayi, Ghislane had stopped moving. “We arrived too late,” Hamwe says. “There was no sign of life. I thought she was dead.” The nurses offered a blood transfusion as a last resort. Hamwe, numb and distracted, agreed. She was already on her phone, messaging the bad news to family back in the village.
Meanwhile, a lab technician at the hospital laboratory was typing out his own message, a request for two units of pediatric red blood cells, O+. Normally he would have dispatched a car and driver to the central blood bank in the capital, Kigali, a 3-hour round trip. But this time he was trying something new. His phone flashed a confirmation message: the blood was on its way, with an estimated delivery time of just six minutes.
Before long the high-pitched whine of a drone could be heard circling the hospital grounds. As it passed over the lab’s parking lot, it released a red cardboard box, attached to a paper parachute. Inside were two packets of blood, wrapped in insulating paper and still cold from refrigeration. A nurse rushed the blood over to the emergency wing, and within minutes, it was pumping into Ghislane’s small, limp body through an IV. The child opened her large brown eyes. It was Dec. 21, 2016, and Ghislane had just become the first person in the world who owes her life to a drone delivery.