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SMS Project Fights Malaria In Africa

IBM, Vodafone, and Novartis are using text messages to manage supplies of anti-malarial drugs in Tanzania.

IBM interns are teaming up with Novartis and Vodafone to use text messaging and the Web to fight malaria in Africa.

The three companies, along with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, are piloting a project called SMS for Life to use text messaging and Web sites built with Lotus Live collaboration tools to track and manage supplies of anti-malarial drugs, IBM said.

The program is running a five-month pilot in 135 villages in Tanzania, where healthcare staff receive automated text messages that prompt them to check remaining stock of anti-malarial drugs each week. Then, staff reply to a database in the UK with current stock levels via text messages sent through a toll-free number, so deliveries can be made before supplies run out. During the first few weeks of the program, the number of health clinics that ran out of drugs was reduced by as much as 75%. Vodafone developed the SMS technology in conjunction with technology partner MatsSoft.

The technology is used to track supplies of Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) drugs and Quinine injectables, both of which are key to reducing the number of deaths from malaria. "The mosquito-borne disease causes nearly one million deaths in Africa each year, mostly among pregnant women and young children, and many people die because they simply lack quick access to vital medication," IBM said.

The program was developed by pharmaceutical company Novartis and a team of international students in IBM's Extreme Blue internship program. SMS for Life "relies on simple technology and fosters self-sufficiency," IBM said. IBM managed the overall project. Despite millions of dollars spent by governments and aid organizations distributing effective anti-malarial drugs to local health centers, more than a million people in Africa die every year from the disease, which strikes particularly hard at pregnant women and young children, IBM said.

"This is an example of a truly innovative solution helping solve a humanitarian problem," said Peter Ward of IBM, SMS for Life Project Manager. "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."

"The early success of the SMS for Life pilot project has the Tanzanian authorities interested in implementing the solution across the rest of the country," IBM said. Tanzania has about 5,000 clinics, hospitals and dispensaries, and up to half of them might be out of stock of anti-malarial drugs at any given time.

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