SMS for Life

Partnership objectives

  1. Bring visibility to medicine and vaccine stock levels in remote public health facilities.
  2. Improve access to essential medicines and vaccines at the point of care, the health facility, by eliminating stock-outs.
  3. Provide an infrastructure to allow collection of disease surveillance information.
  4. Provide training programs to healthcare workers through smartphones and tablet computers.

SMS for Life conducts healthcare worker training in Tanzania. SMS for Life conducts healthcare worker training in Tanzania. Copyright Novartis

What are the health needs and challenges?

Maintaining adequate supplies of medicines in health facilities in rural sub-Saharan Africa is a major barrier to the effective management of life-threatening diseases like malaria. Lack of visibility of medicine stock levels at the health facility level is an important contributor to this problem. Further, maternal mortality due to lack of access to blood stocks is a major problem. Bringing online visibility to these stocks seeks to alleviate this problem. 

Appropriate disease management (diagnosis and treatment) is a key part of any effective healthcare system. Lack of timely data on patient numbers, confirmed diagnosis and treatment practices is a major obstacle to monitoring progress in disease management and to taking effective improvement measures.  

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges:

Led by Novartis and supported by public and private partners, SMS for Life was initially launched in 2009 to help prevent stock-outs of antimalarials in Tanzania. SMS for Life has since been rolled out in more than 10,000 public health facilities in Kenya, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Over the years, the scope of the program has also expanded to more disease areas and health parameters.

Building on the success of SMS for Life, a new enhanced version, SMS for Life 2.0 was launched in 2016. 

How the system works:

The solution is based on the use of simple and affordable technologies (mobile phones, SMS messages, smartphones and tablet computers, the Internet and electronic mapping) so that health facilities that dispense essential medicines can report their stock levels and key disease surveillance indicators to the district medical officers who are responsible for treatment availability.

In addition to stock visibility, the system enables to collect timely and quality disease surveillance data, hence allowing all levels in the health pyramid (districts, regions, national malaria control programs, ministries of health) to monitor and support the operations in the primary health facilities – ultimately making fact-based decisions to better assess the adequacy of the resource allocation with the actual needs. Stock-outs can thus be resolved in 2-3 days whereas in the past this would have taken one or two months.

The tablet-based platform also offers high-quality training programs and educational video resources to support the continuous education of health workers.

The data collected by SMS for Life can be integrated into a country’s health information system and strategy. Implementation is tailored to the specific needs and priorities of individual countries, and the system is flexible, meaning it can be expanded to any number of health facilities, countries, programs, stock items or disease surveillance data.

To date, SMS for Life (phone-based version) has been rolled out in more than 10,000 public health facilities in Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.

In Tanzania, with support from Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Population Services International (PSI), SMS for life was implemented in the country’s 5,100 health facilities. This project was also supported by the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, IBM, Google, Vodafone and Vodacom. Tracking of tuberculosis and leprosy medicines, funded by the Novartis Foundation, has also been added.

In Kenya, Novartis supported the completion of an extensive pilot together with the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP).

In Ghana, following a successful pilot in six districts, sponsored by the Swiss TPH Institute, we worked with the Ghana Health Service on a full country scale-up. The system is also tracking 28 blood products from the National Blood Transfusion Service and from 10 regional hospitals in the greater Accra region. The online information on availability of blood products has helped reduce maternal mortality in child birth from hemorrhage.

The platform was rolled out in Cameroon across more than 3,000 facilities to track malaria medicines and collect patient surveillance data in 2015.

In an initiative led by the President’s Malaria Initiative and rolled out by Greenmash, SMS for Life was implemented in five provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,245 health facilities). Further, the solution was also used to track bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and disease surveillance data, as well as antibiotics, medicines against leprosy and tuberculosis, and blood supplies.

SMS for Life has proven to work and be effective in both the multi-country pilots and country scale-ups where thousands of health facility workers have now been reporting their medicine stocks on a weekly basis for some years. Bringing visibility to the stock levels on a weekly basis has proven to have a direct impact on better medicine stock management, reduction of stock-outs and a consequent increase in access to medicines at the remote health facility level. The main innovation and contribution of the program has been to design and develop an enterprise standard, in the form of a fully scalable, expandable and sustainable solution, which can be offered at an affordable price to resource-poor countries. The infrastructure, which has shown to work in the difficult target environment, now exists and is supported by at least three industry-leading technology suppliers the SMS for Life team has worked with.

SMS for Life 2.0:

Building on the success of SMS for Life, a new enhanced version, SMS for Life 2.0 was launched in 2016 in Kaduna State, Nigeria’s third most populous region, together with the Kaduna State Ministry of Health and Vodacom. The new program addresses key operational challenges at peripheral healthcare facilities (dispensaries, health posts, healthcare and medical centers) in Kaduna State.

Using smartphones and tablet computers, local healthcare workers can track stock levels of essential antimalarials, vaccines, and HIV, TB and leprosy treatments, and send notifications to district medical officers when stock levels are low. Tablet computers also allow for disease monitoring by supporting data collection of basic disease parameters in line with a country’s needs. The program also monitors surveillance parameters of malaria, maternal and infant deaths and seven other diseases, including measles, yellow fever and cholera. In addition, SMS for Life 2.0 enables training of healthcare workers in local facilities using on-demand eLearning modules that support continuous education. These resources can also be used to increase public awareness on health topics.

In addition to the launch in Nigeria, Novartis and its non-profit partner Right to Care signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 with the Zambian Ministry of Health to deploy SMS for Life 2.0 in up to 2,000 health facilities across the country. The program, which will include stock reporting, disease surveillance and eLearning, will be supported by Vodacom and is expected to launch in the second quarter of 2017.

SMS for Life 2.0 is also under discussion in other sub-Saharan countries. Further, the system could be extended to treatments against noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes or high-blood pressure.


"SMS for Life" is expanding

Text messages help fight malaria in Africa

Partnership information

Company(ies) Novartis

Partner(s) Benelux Afro Center, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Democratic Republic of Congo Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service (GHS), Google, IBM, INDEPTH Network Ghana, Kaduna State Ministry of Health, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Malaria No More, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Population Services International (PSI), Right to Care, Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM), Safaricom, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), Tanzania Ministry of Health, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Vodacom DRC, Vodacom Tanzania, Vodafone, Zambian Ministry of Health

Type of Partner(s) Academia / Hospitals, Government, Multilaterals, NGOs, Other Business, PDPs

Therapeutic Focus Neglected Tropical Diseases, Women and Children's Health, Infectious Diseases

Disease(s) Children's Health, Leprosy, Malaria, Obstetrics, Onchocerciasis (River Blindness), Trachoma, Tuberculosis, Women's Health

Program Type(s) Health System Infrastructure - Development of Physical Infrastructure, Health System Infrastructure - mHealth, Health System Infrastructure - Outreach & Medical Services, Health System Infrastructure - Provision of Insecticide Nets, Health System Infrastructure - Training, Prevention Programs - Vaccines

Targeted Population(s) Children, Elderly, Marginalised / Indigenous People, Men, Mothers, People with low income, Women, Youth

Region(s) Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 7

Country(ies) Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia

Start Date 2009

More information SMS for Life

Anticipated completion date Ongoing

« Smart phones and tablets are opening up new prospects to achieve our most rewarding goal: the improvement of healthcare in remote facilities. »

René Ziegler, SMS for Life