This week my company, the next generation condom maker b condoms, announced its intention to seek Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) permission to begin testing the use of drones as part the company's new "Homeland Security Program." The initiative seeks to establish if drones can become an effective tool in providing access to contraception and educational materials in communities where access to safe-sex messaging and supplies are hard to find.
Currently, drones are allowed for non-commercial hobbyists and model aircraft workers. Though Congress ordered the FAA to begin allowing drone usage for commercial purposes in 2013, the Administration's rules still prohibit such, citing safety concerns. Exemptions have made in circumstances relating to emergency preparedness and response, i.e. in the aftermath of oil spills. b condoms is seeking special exemption to current rules, citing alarming rates of new sexually transmitted infections and unwanted teenage pregnancies in rural communities. Drones provide an efficient delivery mechanism to deliver contraception to these markets. This technology can immediately help b condoms tackle the challenge of decreasing the rate of HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies among the estimated 19.3% of the U.S. population that live in rural areas.
Providing equal access to proper preventive tools presents a unique challenge because of geographic isolation, lack of transportation, lack of information, limited testing and low population density in many parts of the country. As a result, nearly 7.7 percent of new HIV cases in 2009 were in rural areas. This is a particular concern for states in the southern part of the U.S., where 67% of new HIV cases have been identified, with the poor and communities of color being hardest hit.
b condoms feels that the Homeland Security Program could also address the rate of unwanted teenage pregnancies in rural areas; teen girls living in rural counties account for 20% of teen births, although they only account for 16% of the population. According to a recent study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the teen birth rate in rural areas is nearly one-third higher than metropolitan counties. Their analysis also shows that teen birth rate in rural counties exceeds that in suburban counties, and teen pregnancy rates have been much slower to decline in rural counties over the past decade. For example between 1990 and 2010, the birth rate dropped 49 percent for teens in major urban centers and 40 percent for teens in suburban areas -- but just 32 percent for adolescents who live in rural counties.
The Homeland Security Program is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2015, pending FAA approval. This initiative can dynamically close the health disparity gap by utilizing drones as an efficient and effective tool combat sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies in the Untied States, if the government is willing to allow a radical new approach to sexual health and serving populations in need.