By Libby George
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's Kaduna state has signed a deal with medical delivery firm Zipline that will allow drone shipment of COVID-19 vaccines without significant state investment in cold-chain storage, the company said on Wednesday.
Kaduna's partnership with Zipline, which delivered more than 1 million doses of other vaccines in Africa over the past year, will also enable on-demand delivery of blood products, medications and other vaccines.
"It will help ensure that millions of people in Kaduna State will always get the care they need," Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai said.
Zipline said its end-to-end cold chain distribution capability, which can safely deliver even the Pfizer vaccine, would allow Kaduna health facilities to bypass purchases of ultra-low freezers and enable on-demand deliveries of precise amounts of COVID-19 vaccines.
The company said it is working with an unnamed "major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer" to enable access to COVID-19 vaccine deliveries in all the markets where it operates. It currently offers drone delivery of blood, vaccines and other medical equipment in Ghana, Rwanda and the United States.
Zipline is also in talks with other states in Nigeria.
Nations across Africa, with limited cold-chain storage and poor road and rail networks, are grappling with how to deliver COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-low temperature storage.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around -70 degrees Celsius (-112°F) before being sent to distribution centres in specially designed cool boxes filled with dry ice.
Nigeria has said it will seek vaccines that are less dependent on cooling facilities.
Kaduna services are slated to begin in the second quarter, with round-the-clock service from three distribution centres with 30 drones each.
El-Rufai said Kaduna had also upgraded 255 primary health centres, installed a pharmagrade warehouse and is recruiting and training 3,000 officers to manage the facilities.
(Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Giles Elgood)