“As It Is Africa, It Is Ok”? Ethical Considerations of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi

By on March 24th, 2021 in Articles, Ethics, Social Implications of Technology


Since 2016, drones have been deployed in various development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, where trials, tests, and studies have been rolled out in countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The use cases of drones vary, ranging from imagery collection to transportation of vaccines, lab samples, blood products, and other medical supplies. A wide range of stakeholders is involved, including governments, international organizations, educational institutions, as well as industry. Based on a field study conducted in 2019, this article investigates how drones are used for medical supply delivery in Malawi—a country where the community is underserved for healthcare and related infrastructure underdeveloped, while airspace is largely open and regulations generally relaxed. The objective of presenting this case study is to contribute to the evidence regarding the rapid deployment of medical cargo drones across the African continent, and to spark critical reflections over the utility, suitability, and impacts of incorporating drones in the existing health supply chain systems in resource-poor settings. The discussion revolves around two aspects: 1) the emergent “African Drone Rise”—is it ok “as it is Africa”? and 2) the normative role of technology in the aid sector—is it “a solution looking for a problem”? In conclusion, a call for more structured guidance for the systematic examination and evaluation of the medical cargo drone case is raised.


Health supply chain system, humanitarian drone, medical cargo drone, medical supply delivery, public interest technology.


Wang, N, “As It Is Africa, It Is Ok”? Ethical Considerations of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi, IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society (vol 2, issue 1, pp. 20-30, DOI: 10.1109/TTS.2021.3058669)

About the Author

Ning Wang is a PhD Candidate at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME), University of Zurich. Ning has worked as an ethicist for a number of international organizations on policy development, in Geneva, as the Business Ethics Manager for a Swiss-based multinational company, and subsequently a humanitarian NGO as the Ethics Policy Advisor, in Geneva, Switzerland prior to commencing a PhD Program in 2017.  In her current project, Ning works on value sensitive innovation, investigating how to integrate ethical values in the humanitarian use of drones, in collaboration with international organizations and academic institutions across Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. Ning is an IEEE SSIT Member.

This article represents the author’s opinion. Published by Miriam Cunningham