Malaria is a disease that impacts of the lives of many across the African continent.
Around 2,200 people still die daily from it, with children making up a large percentage of that number.
While anti-malaria drugs are effective at staving off the disease, maintaining adequate supplies of anti-malarial medicines in health facilities in rural sub-Saharan Africa is a major barrier to effective management of the disease, especially in very remote areas.
Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company, saw that healthcare facilities in the developing world have trouble maintaining adequate supplies of effective antimalarial drugs.
As a result, it saw an opportunity to use technology to increase the availability of these necessary drugs, by way of SMS text messages on mobile phones.
Novartis started a project that focused on keeping adequate supplies of malaria medication stockpiled, especially in rural areas. The name of this endeavor is SMS for Life, and it has helped reduce the number of deaths from this disease throughout Tanzania.
SMS for Life has been effective overall since the pilot program began in 2010. Since then, it has being rolled out across Tanzania and is now moving to other African countries. It has given healthcare workers visibility into antimalarial stock levels and has led to more efficient stock management.
The SMS for Life system consists two things. It has a SMS management tool and a Web-based reporting tool.
“The SMS application stores a single registered mobile telephone number for one healthcare worker at each health facility. Once a week, the system automatically sends an SMS message to each of those telephone numbers and asks for a report of the current stock of antimalarial drugs at the facility. Each healthcare worker sends a message back to report inventory levels, using a short code number so that the message is sent free of charge. A standard message format is used to capture stock quantities, with formatting errors handled through follow-up automated SMS messages to a facility. Using the Web-based reporting tool, the data captured from the SMS stock-count messages are collected and stored centrally on a secure website that requires a unique user ID and password for access.”
The SMS for Life website keeps track of a couple things. It records the current antimalarial medicines and current malaria rapid diagnostic tests from each healthcare facility, as well has has a database of historic stock levels at those facilities. It also uses Google mapping of district health facilities, with stock level overlays and stockout alerts, SMS messaging statistics and usage statistics.
This statistical data can be analyzed for patterns that predict early warning malaria outbreaks. For example, if a facility sees a dramatic increase in antimalarial medication being used, it could mean that the conditions are right in that area for the malaria parasite to thrive.