Local healthcare workers in Kaduna State, Nigeria’s third most populous region, will be able to monitor stock levels of essential medicines at their facilities in real time and request resupplies when they run low, thanks to a project carried out by Novartis in collaboration with the Kaduna State Ministry of Health and mobile operator Vodacom.

The SMS for Life program uses smartphones to improve access to medicines and increase disease surveillance, keeping track of antimalarials, vaccines, and HIV, TB and leprosy treatments. Medical workers will also be able to send notifications to district medical officers when stock levels are low.

The program was launched in Tanzania in 2009, and pilots have been carried out in Ghana and Kenya as well. It aims to address problems such as the lack of medicines in government-run medical facilities in over 10,000 healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan African countries, and the Kaduna State project is a transition from the initial SMS-based model to one that uses smartphones and tablet computers.

In addition to keeping track of maternal and infant deaths, the program will be used to monitor the surveillance parameters of malaria, and seven other diseases, including measles, yellow fever and cholera.

The health workers will also be able to access eLearning modules on demand through the tablet devices deployed as part of the program.

We often face stockouts of medicines in primary health care facilities. With more than six million people, Kaduna is Nigeria’s third most populous state. We hope the program will improve health services by expanding access to essential medicines, thus reducing disease prevalence in communities. Dr Hadiza Balarabe, Kaduna State Primary Health Care Development Agency Executive Secretary

Medicines do not always reach the patients who need them, particularly those living in remote areas. Running out of stock is a major hurdle in ensuring access to essential treatments. By increasing stock visibility, health authorities will be able to monitor stock levels of these medicines in real time.

Furthermore, disease surveillance data combined with the stock reporting function can improve supply chain management, by allowing authorities to better forecast demand for the treatments. This will help to ensure people get the medicines they need in a timely fashion.

“Vodacom believes that mobile technology is a powerful platform to address healthcare problems in Africa,” Vodacom Business CEO Vuyani Jarana said. “Our vision in partnering with Kaduna State is to support the development of productive societies which are healthy, well-educated and economically active. The SMS for Life 2.0 initiative will contribute towards better quality and more accessible healthcare services which will, in turn, contribute to an increase in life expectancy in Nigeria.”

In addition to the launch in Nigeria, Novartis and its non-profit partner Right to Care, have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Zambian Ministry of Health to deploy SMS for Life 2.0 in up to 2,000 health facilities across the country. The program, which will include stock reporting, disease surveillance and eLearning, will be supported by Vodacom and is expected to launch in Q2 2017.

Cover Image: Mark Tuschman for Novartis AG

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