A local non-governmental organization in Rwanda has teamed up with a US logistics firm to deliver cancer drugs to patients amid lockdown measures to combat the novel coronavirus, local media reported Monday.

The lockdown has complicated access to some medical services, including cancer medicine. Doctors say that as a result, cancer patients who fail to get proper care and the right medications are more likely to die from the disease than COVID-19, the New Times website reported.

In an effort to help resolve the problem, Partners in Health (PIH), a Rwandan organization that treats cancer patients at its center at Butaro Hospital, has partnered with U.S. logistics firm Zipline to bring cancer drugs to where cancer patients live, according to the website. 

Zipline operates in Rwanda through its distribution centers using drones to provide delivery services.

“With the lockdown, that group of outpatients could not move around the country. They could not leave their districts and come to the clinic,” the New Times quoted PIH Executive Director Joel Mubiligi as saying. 

“We were trying to explore different options, and Zipline happened to be extremely prompt in responding. The following day, we were already transporting drugs,” Mubiligi added. 

Zipline currently delivers blood to Rwandan hospitals using drones from the firm’s bases in Muhanga and Kayonza districts, according to the website.

“Previously, a patient would be transported to Butaro Hospital from Gisagara, for instance, which is a long distance, given how far the two districts are. Using drones could be an effective way to save the lives of these patients,” the New Times quoted Israel Bimpe, who is in charge of Zipline’s Global Health Partnerships, as saying.  

Over the last couple of weeks, Zipline’s drones have already delivered cancer drugs to 18 cancer patients living in 11 Rwandan districts, according to the website.

After originating in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 185 countries and regions. Europe and the US are currently the worst hit.

The virus has affected more than 985,000 people in the US so far, causing nearly 56,000 deaths.

The pandemic has damaged several sectors globally, especially manufacturing, tourism and travel, due to measures taken by governments such as lockdowns.

The pandemic has killed more than 210,000 people worldwide, with the total number of cases passing 3 million and more than 891,000 recoveries, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University of the US.

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