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Gambia introduces SMS for health

Oct 22, 2010, 12:53 PM | Article By: Momodou Faal

The Ministry of Heath and Social Welfare recently introduced the "SMS for Health" project with both national and international partners geared towards improving the health delivery system in The Gambia.

"SMS for Health" provides real-time information which is then analysed on a weekly basis using mobile phone technology. 

It provides web-based reports on key drug stock levels across the supply chain including health clinics throughout the Gambia. SMS for Health tracks medication supplies and monitors expiry data of pre-specified medicines, incidence data on pre-specified diseases and the types of treatment provided across 50 health clinics.  The information obtained can be used to predict the seasonal variation in the incidence of disease, enabling appropriate drug stocks to be procured and distributed in time.

The system which works on Screenshot of "SMS for Health" via standard mobile phones covers all health clinics in the Gambia (50 in total), as well as the central and regional medical stores in all of the six regions including five major hospitals. Stock level and treatment monitoring commenced on the 18th of June 2010.

Speaking to our reporter in a recent interview, while on a mission to The Gambia, the president of International Health Partners, one of the international project partners, Anthony Dunnett CBE, said: "The Gambia has an extremely high rate of mobile phone coverage and is, therefore, ideally placed to implement an 'mHealth' project.

"In addition to having one of the highest mobile phone rates in Africa,  the government of The Gambia has expressed strong interest in developing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to advance socio-economic development.

"With government encouragement, Vodafone, Pfizer, International Health Partners (IHP) and MatsSoft aligned their diverse expertise and partnered with the Ministry of Health to pilot the SMS for Health project."

According to Mr. Dunnett, the main objective of the project is to achieve full transparency of weekly stock-levels of 20 key medicines throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain, which in turn promotes action to eliminate and reduce stock-outs, thereby significantly improving access to these medicines.

"The project," he added, "also monitors 10 disease areas related to the key medicines".

Dunnett further stated that by overcoming current information gaps that challenge the Ministry of Health's public health efforts, a more connected network of healthcare providers and suppliers has the potential to improve access to needed medications and increase positive health outcomes.

Dr Johannes Wattz, Director of International Public Affairs and Policy World-Wide Biopharmaceutical Business noted: "Pfizer and its partner Vodafone recognized the unique opportunity to apply mobile technology to improve health-related services (mHealth) in the developing world."

He said as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies with a significant global footprint, Pfizer recognizes the diverse medical needs of patients in emerging markets, and is taking its responsibility to improve access to medicines in the developing world extremely seriously.

Mr Wattz added that three weeks after the project started, its partners extended SMS for Health to the regional and central medical stores, thus effectively covering the complete pharmaceutical supply chain in The Gambia. This extension of the project went live on the 16th of July. 

The project is being reviewed on an ongoing basis and supplementary elements and plug-ins are added wherever possible to improve and enhance its impact and outcome, he said.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary for Technical at Health Ministry, Omar Sey, also said SMS for Health came at the time when there was great concern relating to the cause of deaths, adding that this has a high impact on MDGs 4, 5 and 6.

Mr Sey said this was why his ministry has taken it upon itself to engage both local and international donors to support the initative, noting that the coming of SMS for Health "is timely and good".

Meanwhile, the project partners are the Ministry of Health, Pfizer, Vodafone, International Health Partners, and MatsSoft.