Tanzania to Track Supply of Malaria Drugs Via SMS

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A pilot drugs supply management project called "SMS for Life" has Tanzania authorities excited over its potential. The project, which brings together IBM, Novartis, Vodafone and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, taps into a combination of smart technologies to track and manage the supply of anti-malarial drugs.

The concept is the brainchild of students on IBM's Extreme Blue internship programme and uses IBM's LotusLive technology. "SMS for Life" is running in 135 villages and could have far-reaching implications for health systems worldwide. A few weeks after the pilot project kicked off, the number of health facilities with stock-outs in one district alone, was reduced by over 75 per cent.

The early success of the SMS for Life pilot project has the Tanzanian authorities interested in implementing the solution across the rest of the country. According to Ministry of Health and Social Welfare senior health officer Winfred Mwafongo, the programme has already had a positive effect in Tanzania.

Mwafongo said that the government has seen district medical officers ordering urgent stock replacements for various health facilities and that the SMS scheme will facilitate the urgent need. "During a visit to 19 rural health facilities in one district alone, we saw huge improvements in their inventory management systems. We are impressed with the results so far and look forward to following the rest of the pilot project through to completion," he said.

Tanzania has around 5,000 clinics, hospitals and dispensaries, but at any one time, as many as half that number could be out of stock of anti-malarial drugs. The initiative uses a combination of mobile phones, SMS technologies and intuitive websites to track and manage the supply of Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy drugs and quinine injectables, both of which are key to reducing the number of deaths from malaria.

Norvatis executive vice president and head of the malaria initiatives Silvio Gabriel said that SMS for Life designed as a public and private partnership leveraging the skills and resources of several companies, could have far-reaching implications for existing health systems worldwide.

IBM is managing the overall project while Vodafone developed and is managing the system based on simple SMS messaging that helps ensure dispensaries do not run out of vital stock. IBM, Novartis and Vodafone initiated a five-month pilot of the SMS for Life solution, covering 135 villages and over a million people across Tanzania.

Vodafone, together with its technology partner MatsSoft, developed a system in which healthcare staff at each facility receive automated SMS messages, that prompt them to check the remaining stock of anti-malarial drugs each week.

Using toll-free numbers, staff reply with an SMS to a central database system hosted in the United Kingdom, providing details of stock levels, and deliveries can be made before supplies run out at local health centres.

The Roll Back Malaria initiative draws its strength and experience from hundreds of partners from malaria endemic countries, country donors, companies, non-governmental and community organisations, foundations and research and academic institutions.

RBM partners' collective aim is to reduce annual malaria deaths from around one million to virtually zero by 2015 through the implementation of the Global Malaria Action Plan. More than one million people die from malaria each year, and the real tragedy is that malaria is curable.

The East African