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Delivery drone
Unmanned aerial vehicles are used to deliver medical supplies in rural Ghana. (Credit: Drones for Development)

When U.N. health experts were trying to come up with a way to deliver contraceptives to women in hard-to-reach areas of Ghana, they took a page from Amazon’s drone delivery playbook.

Their pilot project, known as Dr. One, was reportedly inspired in late 2014 by the Seattle-based online retailer’s plans for aerial package deliveries.

“We thought, ‘Hang on a minute. We can use this for something else!” Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund, was quoted as saying in The Huffington Post’s report about the project.

The experiment gained the support of organizations ranging from the population fund, the Ghana Health Service and the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory to IDI Snowmobile and Drones for Development. It uses 5-foot-wide, remote-controlled aerial vehicles to carry birth control pills, condoms and other medical supplies from an urban warehouse to a rural drop-off point. A health worker picks up the supplies and distributes them to local residents. Each flight costs $15.

“Delivery to the rural areas used to take two days,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post at the International Conference on Family Planning in Bali, Indonesia. “It will now take 30 minutes.”

Several other African countries have expressed interest in adapting the delivery system for their own use.

Dr. One isn’t the only project of its kind: For years, Matternet has been testing drone delivery networks for medical supplies in challenging locales such as Haiti, Bhutan, the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea.

Who knows? Maybe these humanitarian applications will serve as an inspiration for Amazon Prime Air.

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