Industry giants combat malaria with tech

IBM, Novartis and Vodafone have teamed up to use technology in the fight against malaria.

malaria sign

Tech giants are putting their expertise to good use outside of the corporate arena by using IT to combat malaria by ensuring drugs are more readily available.

Dubbed SMS for Life, the solution - jointly developed by IBM, Novartis and Vodafone - is being used in association with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, to boost availability of anti-malarial drugs in remote areas of Tanzania.

SMS for Life brings together mobiles, SMS and web-based tech to help track and manage the supply of Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) drugs and Quinine injectables. Put together, these can greatly reduce the death toll linked to malaria, which totals almost one million people each year in Africa - most of which are young children and pregnant women.

After visits to clinics, hospitals and dispensaries across Tanzania, IBM, Novartis and Vodafone initiated a five-month pilot of the SMS for Life solution, covering 135 villages and over a million people in different geographic locations across Tanzania.

Healthcare staff receive automated text to remind them to check drug stocks every week. Then, using toll-free numbers, they can reply by text to a central UK-based database. Once stock levels are determined, deliveries can be arrange before they completely run out.

IBM interns - dubbed Extreme Blue - were heavily involved in the project, as was Vodafone's development partner MatsSoft.

"This is an example of a truly innovative solution helping solve a humanitarian problem. 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," said Peter Ward, project manager for IBM, in a statement. "We expect other countries will also be able to benefit in the future."

During the pilot benefits were clear almost immediately. Indeed, during the first few weeks, the number of locations reporting zero stock levels went down by more than 75 per cent. As a result, the authorities are considering extending the roll-out country wide.

"The SMS for Life programme has already had a positive effect in Tanzania. I've seen district medical officers ordering urgent stock replacements for various health facilities," said Winfred Mwafongo, senior health officer for Tanzania's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, in a statement.

"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."

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