By JAMES RATEMO
Malaria has been in the category of Aids and tuberculosis — as killer diseases — and deserves deathblow at whatever cost.
However, studies show the fight against the killer disease has been jeorpadised not by lack of enough drugs, but poor distribution. Many patients die due to poor treatment and shortage of drugs at health centres where they are needed most yet, in others, the drugs lie unused in stores.
A new technology that uses SMS to track movement of drugs and stock levels in health centres is boosting the war against malaria, which claims more than 880,000 lives a year in Africa.
The technology has successfully been piloted in Tanzania and promises the disease can be controlled by prompt distribution of drugs.
A multinational computer, technology and IT consulting company, IBM, in partnership with Novartis and Vodafone, together with Roll Back Malaria and Tanzania’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have reaped from the technology dubbed ‘SMS for Life’. The system tracks movement and the supply of anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.
‘SMS for Life’ pilot project in Tanzania used mobile and electronic mapping technology to track and manage delivery and stock levels of the drugs to health facilities in rural areas.
Accurately monitoring the amount of medication available in a given location reduces the risk of running out of stock and ensures treatments are available to patients, even in the most remote areas, where and when they are needed. Common anti-malarial drugs include artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) and quinine injectables.
"Use of mobile phones to keep everyone informed of the stock position of anti-malaria medicines has prompted the supply chain to replenish stocks on time to avoid stock-outs," says David Mwakyusa, Tanzania’s Health and Social Welfare Minister.
"We have saved hundreds of lives in the districts we piloted the programme," adds Prof Mwakyusa.
‘SMS for Life’ sends weekly automated alerts to staff at participating healthcare facilities, prompting them to check the stock and reply using an SMS with stock details.