SMS for Life wins WSJ Innovation Award 2011

Scaling up in Tanzania with MMV support, SMS for Life uses mobile phone technology to prevent stock-outs of life-saving medicines

31 Oct 2011

The SMS for Life project has won the Wall Street Journal’s Innovation Award 2011 in the Health-Care IT category. Stock-outs of antimalarial medicines in healthcare facilities across Africa are a major problem and cause thousands of needless deaths. SMS for Life addresses this problem by using widely available SMS technology to track medical supplies and strengthen supply systems to ensure they reach the patients who need them.

The use of mobile phones is now ubiquitous across Africa and has proved to be an ideal way to track levels of stock of essential medicines, such as artemisinin-based combination therapies. In the SMS for Life programme, health facility workers send weekly updates of antimalarial drug stock via SMS. This information is captured in a central database which is then used to display country-wide stock availability by district and health facility. Not only can facilities at imminent risk of stock-out be replenished quickly, but most importantly, the weekly reporting eventually creates a treasure trove of information on drug demand at each facility. This information is critical to improve supply chain management (similar approaches are used by retailers and wholesalers in developed countries).

SMS for Life initially started in 2009 as a pilot in three districts in Tanzania, under the auspices of the Government of Tanzania, with support from many partners*, and has been recognized by the WSJ award. Today, led by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare with technical and financial help from MMV and the Swiss Development Corporation, the initiative has been rolled-out nationwide. A total of 5021 Tanzanian health facilities have now been trained – covering the whole country.

The SMS for Life system is simple, scalable, and can be adapted for broader applications than just tracking antimalarial drug supplies. Proposals under consideration are to use the platform for tracking the flows of other essential drugs in addition to antimalarials. For example, in Kenya, MMV is working with local partners such as the University of Oxford to expand the use of the technology to compile basic case management information, regarding how patients are cared for and treated after presenting with signs of malaria infection.

“We at MMV are delighted to see the early pioneers of SMS for Life recognized by the WSJ Award for their innovative thinking.” said David Reddy, MMV’s CEO. “Moving forward, MMV and its partners are committed to seeing the Government of Tanzania take full control of this important technology to strengthen pharmaceutical supply management. Together, the SMS for Life partners will help make stock-outs of antimalarials and other essential medicines a thing of the past.”

*Novartis, Google Inc., Vodafone Group PLC, IBM, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership