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SMS for Life

SMS for Life is an innovative public-private partnership led by Novartis and supported by several partners, each bringing specific skills.

SMS for Life harnesses everyday technology to improve access to malaria medicines and other essential drugs in rural areas of developing countries. It uses a combination of mobile phones, SMS messages, tablet PCs, the Internet and electronic mapping technology to

1.Track periodic stock levels at public health facilities in order to:

  • Eliminate stock-outs
  • Increase access to essential medicines
  • Reduce the number of deaths from malaria

2. Report periodic key disease surveillance indicators

3. Deliver electronic training programs and health-related educational resources to primary healthcare facilities

Exploring the problem

In many African countries, supply chain problems make it difficult to get essential medicines and commodities to patients. Barriers include:

  • High stock-outs at rural health facilities, i.e. the point of care, where patients can get free drugs rather than having to pay for them at pharmacies or private clinics
  • Zero visibility to district management on the medicine stock levels in their facilities
  • Extreme difficulty in forecasting demand for the drug, resulting in emergency orders that require to ramp up production and transport the drug by air
  • Inconsistent reporting of consumption and sporadic, paper-based ordering

Impressive results

The core of the solution is the use of simple and affordable technologies (SMS messaging, tablet PCs) so that the health facilities that dispense essential medicines (e.g. antimalarial treatments, vaccines)…can report their stock levels and key disease surveillance indicators to their district medical officers who are responsible for treatment availability in the districts.

The SMS for Life 2.0 platform is intended to improve access to essential medicines and commodities as well as quality of care at the peripheral primary level of the public health system (Dispensaires, Cases de Santé, Centres de Santé et Centres Medicaux).

Through the collection of timely and quality disease surveillance data that can be superimposed on the stock visibility, the platform allows all levels in the health pyramid (districts, regions, national programs, ministry of health) to monitor and support the operations in the primary health facilities, and make fact-based decisions to better assess the adequacy of the resource allocation with the actual needs.

The tablet based platform also avails important training programs and educational videos resources that support continuous education of the health workers as well as can be used to increase public awareness on specific health related topics.

The SMS for Life is designed so that the data it collects can be integrated into the countries’ health information system and strategy. It is also designed in a flexible manner and each implementation is tailored to the specific needs and priorities of the countries, considering that the system can be expanded to any number of health facilities, any number of programs and any number of stock items or disease surveillance items.

Current status

SMS for Life 1.0 (phone based version) has been piloted in over 10,000 Health Care Facilities. Cameroon, with over 3,000 active facilities, represents the corner stone of the phone based platform.

SMS for Life 2.0, the tablet based platform is currently under advanced discussions in Gabon, Nigeria and Zambia. The tablet based platform offers as well a state-of-the-art communication tool, which enables Health Authorities to communicate swiftly and efficiently with peripheral Health Care Facilities. It is foreseen that during 2016 and 2017 5,000 additional Heath Care Facilities will benefit from the introduction of SMS for Life 2.0.

A widely acclaimed initiative

Since its inception, SMS for Life has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the 2012 Ethical Corporation Award for Best Corporate/NGO Partnership and Computerworld’s 21st Century Achievement Award in the Innovation IT category. Earlier recognitions include the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Award in the Health-Care IT category and a catalytic grant from The Innovation Working Group, part of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child effort, and the mHealth Alliance.

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