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Healthcare materials delivered by drones, gives rural women access to contraception

Think Change India
12th Feb 2016
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Healthcare professionals have realised that they can use drones, or unmanned flying robots, to deliver healthcare materials. Especially in rural areas with poor infrastructure and the nearest clinic or doctor is miles away. Sometimes natural disasters or unrest can cut off supply routes. Drones can deliver medicines, vaccines, and disease diagnosis materials. This way people can receive the care they need without travelling to see a doctor, reports Afrizap.

Image: Afrizap
Image: Afrizap

In late-2014, a group of public health experts and philanthropists were grappling with the problem of how to improve contraception access for women in the most remote, hard-to-reach villages in rural Africa, where a flood can shut down the roads for days and cut off medical supply chains. It occurred to them to borrow an idea from an online retailer: unmanned delivery drones. “We thought, ‘Hang on a minute. We can use this for something else!'” said Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the United Nations Population Fund.

The idea grew into a successful pilot programme called Dr. One, which has for months been successfully flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana on 5-foot-wide drones. The pilot programme, which is jointly funded by UNFPA and the Dutch government, is now expanding into six other African countries in hopes of revolutionising women’s health and family planning across the continent. The drone operator simply packs the vehicle with contraception and medical supplies from a warehouse in an urban area and pilots it over to places that are difficult to access by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies. “Delivery to the rural areas used to take two days,” Kanyanta said at the International Conference on Family Planning in Bali, Indonesia. “It will now take 30 minutes.”

Access to birth control is a massive problem in Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, where fewer than 20 per cent of women are using modern contraceptives. The World Health Organization estimates that 225 million women in developing countries around the world would like to delay or stop childbearing, but lack reliable birth control methods. The lack of access leads to exceedingly high rates of unintended pregnancy in these areas, which prevents women and girls from finishing school or becoming employed. And roughly 47,000 women a year die of complications from unsafe abortions.

Kanyanta said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter significant obstacles. He was worried that residents receiving the shipments would associate the contraception drones with war drones. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there,” he stated. The pilot program in Ghana has been successful and cost-efficient. Governments of several countries have offered to take over the programme and pay for it themselves. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have all expressed interest in using the drones for family planning.

Kanyanta hopes that at some point in the future, drones will revolutionise many other areas of life in rural Africa, reports The Huffington Post.

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