Women’s healthcare in a number of African countries may get help from above, thanks to a programme to use air-borne drones to avoid often impassable roads and fly in health and birth control products to remote settlements. The brainchild of a group of public health experts and philanthropists, the initiative, part of a project called ‘Last Mile’, has been gaining significant pace.
Funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the programme has successfully flown to rural communities in Ghana, west Africa, with five-foot drones, bearing birth control products as the morning after pill, condoms, and other women’s health supplies. Because of this success, Last Mile will now be rolled out across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
This region of the world is particularly affected by poor birth control programmes, with only 20% of women able to access services. Last Mile was launched as a way to combat this problem. First, the drones pick up the supplies from a warehouse in an urban area. Then the drone is piloted to one of the rural areas in which supplies are needed. Finally, a local health worker picks up the supplies from the drone, and gives them to those in need.
Family planning is an issue of great importance to women’s health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 225 million women who would like to postpone or prevent childbirth are unable to, due to lack of access to birth control products. The health implications of this can be severe with high risks of maternal and child morbidity.
The WHO estimates that 830 women die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of such deaths occur in developing countries. The social effects of unintended pregnancy can also be detrimental, preventing women from completing education or finding employment. It is also estimated that 47,000 women in Africa die each year as a result of unsafe abortions.
The initial pilot programme in Ghana proved a roaring success, with each flight costing only $15. Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mozambique are all governments who have expressed an interest in the programme – with the governments agreeing to foot the bill. The future of delivery has arrived in Africa, and with it the opportunity to improve women’s health across the continent.