Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a programme jointly funded by the United Nations (UN) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.
Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African Public Health Specialist with the UN Population Fund.
Sunkutu said he expected the pilot programme in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the UN, in its programme materials, referred to the drones only as ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ — not drones.
‘We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,’ Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. ‘But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.’
Less than than 20% of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.
‘We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,’ Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.
The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a programme in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.
The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.
Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.
Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionise women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.
Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to HuffingtonPost. In June, a Dutch organisation called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable programme for delivering contraceptives by drone.
Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionise other areas of rural African life, starting with family planning.
‘They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,’ he said. ‘It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.’