IBM And Vodafone Use Mobile Tech To Combat Malaria


IBM and Vodafone are using SMS and web technology to manage the supply of anti-malarial drugs in Tanzania

IBM and Vodafone together with healthcare specialist Novartis and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership have developed a project that uses mobile SMS and web technology to improve the availability of anti-malarial drugs in remote areas of Tanzania.

The organisations announced earlier this month that they plan to use a combination of mobile and Internet technology to help track and manage supplies of anti-malarial drugs such as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) and quinine. Know as SMS for Life, the project was developed by a team of international students taking part in IBM’s internship programme, Extreme Blue.

Vodafone’s part in the scheme was to develop the SMS system to help dispensaries ensure they do not run out of stock of the anti-malarial drugs. Together with its technology partner MatsSoft, the mobile provider developed a system in which healthcare staff receive automated SMS messages, which prompt them to check the remaining stock of anti-malarial drugs each week. “Using toll-free numbers, staff reply with an SMS to a central database system hosted in the United Kingdom, providing details of stock levels, and deliveries can be made before supplies run out at local health centres,” IBM explained.

According to Peter Ward of IBM, SMS for Life Project manager, the project is an example of how technology can help deliver on humanitarian goals. “After spending time on the ground, we created a project plan, developed the application with Vodafone and Novartis and established the best way to deliver the pilot, working with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health. We expect other countries will also be able to benefit in the future,” he said.

The SMS for Life program has already had a positive effect in Tanzania according Winfred Mwafongo, senior health officer with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. “I’ve seen district medical officers ordering urgent stock replacements for various health facilities. During a visit to 19 rural health facilities in one district alone, I saw huge improvements in their inventory management systems. I’m very impressed with the results so far and look forward to following the rest of the pilot through to completion.”

Other examples of how IT is benefiting health projects in Africa include a project announced in August between the NHS and the Department For International Development, designed to create thousands of Internet-based learning centers across Kenya. The first pilot in the Pasha Centre scheme was opened in Kangundo, with five other centres planned to open in locations around the country in the near future, according to Kenya’s ICT Board which is managing the scheme.

IT charity Computer Aid also donates refurbished PCs from UK organisations including the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) in Kenya, which provides PCs to rural hospitals to help with remote diagnosis and treatment as well as the British Council in Eritrea which has a project to equip public libraries with PCs in the East African country.