SMS for Life is a pilot program in Tanzania that uses mobile phones and text messages to keep track the amount of malaria drugs in different areas, preventing stocks of malaria drugs from running out at critical times.
Malaria kills 800,000 Africans every year. Eighty-five percent of them are children under five. Malaria patients at African health centers, like this one in Mlandizi, Tanzania, need drugs known as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies, or ACTs. They can wipe out Malaria parasites in just a few days.
DANIEL CRAPPER [Population Services International, Tanzania]
Artemisinin Combined Therapies are making a huge impact, not just on saving individual children, but also helping prevent the transmission of the disease.
But drugs like Coartem, the first ACT approved by the World Health Organization, are not always available. In Tanzania, incoming drugs start their journey here, at the central medical stores. Lorries then take them to regional stores, and on to district and local health centers. But the system often breaks down.
DR. MAIMUNA YUSEF [Mlandizi Health Center, Tanzania]
It was so difficult. So far in the last two years we didn't have Coartem at all. It's true.
A new approach is being piloted here in Tanzania, which could prevent stocks of drugs running out. It's called SMS for Life. It uses the most reliable method of communication in Africa -- mobile phones and text messages.
SMS for Life is simply a management information system. It sheds light onto the availability of essential life-saving drugs. It gives you a picture of where drugs are, and more importantly, where they are not.
Dr. William Mwaga is the man responsible for knowing exactly where all the drugs are in Kibaha district. Every Thursday, he sends a text message asking all his specially trained community health officers to tell him how many malaria drugs they have.
DR. WILLIAM MWAGA [District Malaria Officer, Kibaha, Tanzania]
The situation before this program was very poor. We didn't know the status of malaria drugs until the end of the quarter. But now, we know the status of the malaria drugs every week.
The answers come quickly. There's an incentive. Health officers who respond within 24 hours receive a small payment, topped up onto their mobile phone. These are the figures Dr. Mwaga received yesterday. Mlandizi Health Center reports a worrying shortage of the ACTs designed for babies and children.
DR. WILLIAM MWAGA
They have zero yellow Coartem but they have 19 boxes of red Coartem, which is for adult only.
So Dr. Mwaga checks his own store at the District health center. It's good news. He's got plenty of boxes of yellow Coartem. Dr. Mwaga can now send some off to Mlandizi.
It's not so much a push system where someone at the center level says you will have these drugs. It's moving towards a system where people at the facility, the people who know what the demands are, are ordering the right drugs at the right time.
DR. MAIMUNA YUSEF
I think that it's useful. We just look at the systems, and we ordered, and you bring it to us. It's very nice. I like it.
If people with fever are not getting treated within 24 hours, the cure rates significantly decline. By making sure that the right drugs are there at the right moment, we can make a significant impact on the reduction of malaria.