Prarthna Desai: She’s Making Global Health Her Mission

March 19 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Patience is a Virtue

Did you know kids are terrible at waiting? You can put on their favorite YouTube video and they freak out when they have to wait through a 30-second ad first. Patience is no virtue for them. But honestly, are grownups any better? I may wait for what seems like forever in line at the pharmacy with an apathetic expression on my face, but inside, I’m yelling, “Come on! Hurry up! What’s taking so long?” Obviously, I still haven’t discovered the secret to instilling personal patience, especially when I’m waiting in line, but today, I’m reminded just how lucky I am to simply have access to a pharmacy at all.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: More Than 2 Billion

A celebrity recently took to Twitter to complain about a pharmacy’s operating hours, resulting in impassioned responses on both sides of the issue. While we’ve all experienced the frustration of seeing that dreaded “closed” sign, for many, lack of access to medicine can result in a truly deadly situation. For instance, more than 2 billion people worldwide face this dire situation, lacking adequate access to lifesaving health products, including blood and vaccines, simply because their locations are too remote or lack infrastructure.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Prarthna Desai, Former Health Operations Lead at Zipline International Inc.

Today’s Woman to Watch, Prarthna Desai, made it her mission to help some of those 2 billion people with little or no access to health products. As the health operations lead at Zipline International Inc., Prarthna headed all health-care-related aspects of the world’s only medicine-delivery-by-drone service. In fact, she was so passionate about making health care accessible to those in the developing world that the MIT grad even left her Harvard Graduate School program to help get Zipline off the ground.

Today, Zipline delivers medicine people urgently need, including blood and vaccines, to remote areas, regardless of impassable mountains, washed-out roads or areas with other problematic terrain. Zipline first launched its services in Rwanda, and within a year, Prarthna helped the company expand from a startup to being able to offer daily medical deliveries to eight different hospitals in Rwanda. And since October 2016, Zipline has delivered thousands of units of blood alone, thereby saving countless lives.

Here’s how the service works: Health workers at clinics simply text Zipline for the medical products they need, resulting in immediate packaging for flight. When the package takes off, a text is sent to the clinic and the Zipline drone speeds along at nearly 70 miles per hour to its destination. Within minutes, the medical package is gently dropped down by parachute in a designated area. Pretty ingenious, right?

Regardless of weather, Zipline makes 500 deliveries every day, averaging about 30 minutes or less to fulfill requests. Clinics can request medical products any time of day or night and Zipline launches into action. Zipline’s website includes inspirational stories about women who received much-needed blood transfusions just 30 minutes after childbirth, and kids with malaria who got the health products they needed in time to save their lives. And thanks to all of Prarthna’s hard work, Zipline plans to expand its services to Tanzania in 2018, and even more countries moving forward.

Now that she’s back at Harvard pursuing her MBA, Prarthna’s even more motivated to work toward improving global access to health care, noting that what drives her is the belief that health care is a universal right for every individual. We can’t wait to see what new innovations this health-care hero comes up with next in her mission to make the world a better and healthier place.


Prarthna Desai embodies this quote from the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, who said:

“I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words. They ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

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