Healthcare provision is a big issue when it comes to Ghana and the African continent. There are many obstacles which prevent millions of people from getting healthcare which is on par with that received in the West – finances, lack of technology, an inadequately-trained workforce, lack of electricity and the various issues surrounding energy provision, etc. However, one of the biggest issues is the fact that there are large rural communities in Ghana and in various African countries that are situated in remote and hard-to-reach villages and towns. Places where a flood can shut down the roads for days and cut off supply chains. Places where an ‘act of nature’ could prevent healthcare professionals from reaching those in need in good time.
As 2014 drew to a close, a group of public health experts and philanthropists congregated to think about how to improve contraception access and sexual health provision to women in these areas. A light-bulb collectively switched on, as they took inspiration from Amazon, the American electronic commerce behemoth which is pioneering the use of unmanned delivery drones.
Enter Dr. One – a successful pilot program jointly funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the government of the Netherlands, which gained support from the Ghana Health Service. The Dr. One program has been using 5-foot-wide drones to successfully fly birth control medications, condoms and other medical supplies from urban warehouses to rural areas of Ghana which would be otherwise very difficult to reach. A healthcare worker waits for the drop at a predetermined area, picks up the supplies and then distributes them to local residents in need.
Delays in the provision of health treatments to rural areas have been eased by this program, with the drones delivering treatment to hard-to-reach areas.
“Delivery to the rural areas used to take two days,” said Kanyanta Sunkutu (public health specialist with the UNFPA) at the International Conference on Family Planning in Bali, Indonesia.
“It will now take 30 minutes.” Such has been the level of success, the program is now looking at options to expand into more territories in order to spread this sexual health revolution across the continent.
In a domain such as Sub-Saharan Africa, which sees less than 20% of women using modern contraception, access to adequate and appropriate birth control is a big issue. It’s more pressing when you appreciate World Health Organisation estimations that approximately 225 million women in developing nations worldwide lack reliable birth control methods despite desiring to hold-off pregnancy or maybe not bear any children.
These kind of figures betray how much of an issue the lack of access to appropriate birth control is, with very high rates of unintentional pregnancy observed in these areas. Unintentional pregnancies are married to problems such as child pregnancy and marriage, as well as lack of female education (with young ladies falling pregnant and having to drop out of school to tend to their babies and generate income). Many young girls and women also find themselves seeking abortions following the confirmation of an undesired pregnancy. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that seeking an abortion in areas where adequate healthcare is scant and a lack of appropriate treatment exists, is a minefield fraught with danger – approximately 47000 women die yearly from complications related to such unsafe abortions.
The pilot program in Ghana has been so successful and cost-efficient (with each delivery flight costing only $15) that the governments of several countries have offered to take over the program and pay for it themselves. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have all expressed interest in using the drones for family planning.
Programs such as Dr. One may seem uncomplicated, but their influence and power have a wide-ranging benefit both logistically and ideologically. Such invention could go a long way in helping Ghana and the continent bypass seemingly insurmountable obstacles to finally making the massive inroads required to improve African sexual health, reduce maternal/infant mortality and morbidity rates, and drag African healthcare to the standards its inhabitants deserve.
By Dr. Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)