For health workers on the 80-plus islands of South Pacifc nation Vanuatu, ordering medicine for the local clinic is no easy task: With Internet access limited, and some communities accessible only by sea, requests for medication are recorded on paper forms and shipped to a central office. This process can take up to three months in some cases—time which can’t be wasted when patients need care.
Determined to solve this problem, Save the Children Australia has partnered with Souktel, mobile network Digicel and the Vanuatu Ministry of Health to create a new SMS service that lets health workers in 208 rural “aid posts” send medicine requests and basic patient reports via text message. Save the Children will also use the platform to send large scale alerts to aid post staff.
‘“This service will really improve the delivery of medication to remote areas [of the country],” says a spokesperson for Save the Children Australia in Vanuatu. “At the same time, it will allow for easier communication among village health workers”.
A key advantage of the service is its use of simple text messaging: Because it’s SMS-based, neither Save the Children nor village health workers had to purchase new phones, buy mobile data plans, or try to decipher a complex app. Health workers can just send a message to the service from their own phone handsets–in the same way that they’d text a friend–after logging in with a secure PIN code.
The health data collection service launches across Vanuatu this month, but there are already plans to adapt it for other regions. “We believe this type of low-cost, basic technology can improve health care delivery in any country where communities are spread far apart from each other—whether that’s in the South Pacific or in South America,” says Souktel president Jacob Korenblum.
“Our goal is always to help people save time, money and resources,” he adds. “This is all the more important in urgent medical situations—you don’t want to wait for five days to get the medication you need. This service enables real-time tracking of disease incidence and spread, and it helps get medicine where it’s needed more quickly. With this new initiative we’re excited to join the growing ‘mobile health’ community, and partner with others who work in this sector”.