Africa is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. Over the last decade, mobile subscriptions in Africa grew by an average of 30 percent per year, indicating that the technology has the potential to play an important role in creating jobs and driving economic growth. In Africa’s health sector, mobile health (mHealth) programs are saving lives right now. Some are in the pilot stage, making big progress in small areas and looking to scale up, while others are already operating at the national level.
Much progress has been made in providing the insecticide-treated bed nets and ACTs (artemesinin-based combination therapies) necessary to prevent malaria. However, making sure that those ACTs are available in rural health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa is critical to managing the disease. Mobile technology has increased access to ACTs and made monitoring supply levels in rural health centers more manageable and timely.
As seen on the ONE Blog in 2009, SMS for Life, a “public-private” project, was piloted in three districts in rural Tanzania. The program’s goal was to improve access to anti-malarial medications by eliminating stock outs of ACTs. Using simple and widely available mobile phone technology, district management teams received weekly reports on supply levels in rural health facilities. The increased transparency resulted in more efficient stock management, which in turn translated into real results for patients.
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When launched three years ago, 26 percent of the health facilities in the three pilot districts did not have any ACTs in stock, but by the program’s end, 99 percent had at least one ACT in their inventory. In one district, stock outs were eliminated by the second month of the pilot — and the district has not run out since then. The resulting increase in access to ACTs is staggering and life-saving. At the start of the pilot, 264,000 people had access to ACTs in those districts; by the end, the number had increased to 888,000. SMS for Life was rolled out nationwide in Tanzania in 2011, with new pilots in Kenya and Ghana. The program can be easily adjusted to other goals and scaled up to national levels.
Mobiles bring health data collection to remote regions. Photo credit: UN Foundation.
With widespread mobile phone coverage, initiatives that tap into the potential of web and mobile technologies can help citizens do more than get better health services. They can help them uncover corruption, improve budget processes, monitor aid, improve their public services, enhance governance, and access and share the information they need to take greater control of their own lives. See the “Bridging Transparency and Technology” work-stream of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, the Tech for Transparency network and the cutting-edge Frontline SMS for more exciting examples.
Photo credit: DataDyne.org.