Health and Healthcare Systems

Rwandan medical workers deploy robots to minimise coronavirus risk

High-tech robots developed by Zora Bots, a Belgium-based company, and donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are seen during a demonstration at the Kanyinya treatment centre that treats coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients, in Kigali, Rwanda May 29, 2020. Picture taken May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana - RC2XYG9MFCHZ

The robots to carry out simple tasks, minimising the staff's exposure to sick patients. Image: REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana

Duncan Miriri
Correspondent, Reuters
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Rwanda

  • Rwanda has installed a series of robots in an effort to minimise the risk of medical staff catching coronavirus.
  • The robots carry out simple tasks, like checking temperatures and monitoring patients, thus reducing human exposure to the disease.
  • The robots where donated by the United Nations Development Programme.

At the Kanyinya COVID-19 treatment facility a short distance from Rwanda's capital Kigali, Akazuba, Ikizere and Ngabo report for duty, but these are no ordinary health care workers.

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In a bid to minimise contact between patients infected with the coronavirus and doctors and nurses, the country has deployed the three robots to carry out simple tasks like taking temperatures and monitoring patients.

High-tech robots developed by Zora Bots, a Belgium-based company, and donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are seen during a demonstration at the Kanyinya treatment centre that treats coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients, in Kigali, Rwanda May 29, 2020. Picture taken May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana - RC2XYG91OKJU
The team of three robots. Image: REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana

The sleek white robots, with big bright blue eyes and a rather human appearance, were donated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and are helping frontline workers tackle the coronavirus crisis in the East African nation which so far has 355 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease.

"The three robots that we have are part of the treating team," said David Turatsinze, a doctor at the 75-bed facility, which housed 65 patients when the Reuters team visited.

By relaying messages to doctors and helping the team assess the effectiveness of their clinical decisions, the robots cut the number of bedside visits that doctors have to make.

Engineers give instructions to a high-tech robot developed by Zora Bots, a Belgium-based company, and donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at the Kanyinya treatment centre that treats coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients, in Kigali, Rwanda May 29, 2020. Picture taken May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana - RC2XYG94DYBZ
Staff are able to give instructions to a high-tech robot. Image: REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana

Francine Umutesi, a bio-medical engineer who works as a health technology operations specialist at the ministry of health, said the robots were a first for Africa and had the potential to offer even more support to medical teams.

"It doesn't remove the tasks the doctors are supposed to do, it's just complementing their efforts," she said.

An engineer operates a high-tech robot developed by Zora Bots, a Belgium-based company, and donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to the Kanyinya treatment centre that treats coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients in Kigali, Rwanda May 29, 2020. Picture taken May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana - RC2XYG9VOIV2
The robots are easy to operate, and save the staff valuable time. Image: REUTERS/Clement Uwiringiyimana

Rwanda already uses drones to deliver blood and enforce restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. There are two more robots at the country's other COVID-19 treatment centre, Nyamata, in south east Kigali.

Officials said the robots will be programmed to carry out additional tasks.

"In the future if they are programmed to take even blood pressure and the (blood) sugar, that definitely would be so helpful," said Turatsinze.

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