Mapping medicine availability via SMS
Medicine stock-outs are a potentially lethal problem in a number of African countries, yet governments insist they don’t occur. What could be more powerful than a map which contradicts this claim?
Last week activists in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia started surveying clinics in their respective countries, checking stock levels of essential medicines, including:
- First-line anti-malarials
- Zinc 20mg tablet
- First-line ARVs
- Metronidazole 200mg tablet
- Amoxicillin suspension
- Cotrimoxazole suspension
- ORS – Diarrhea
Each of these are seen as essential in varying degrees to fighting disease and illness, and are widely used when available.
Armed with the data, activists report their results via structured, coded SMS – “x,y,z” – where the first number represents their country code (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda or Zambia), the second their district or city, and the third the medicine which they found to be out of stock. These messages are received by a phone connected to a computer running FrontlineSMS, which then runs an automatic script which validates the data before it is sent over the internet to a Ushahidi-powered website.
From there the results are automatically displayed on a map, below (click to visit the live site).
As of today, there have been over 250 stock-outs of these essential medicines.
Since the data is automatically populated, the map represents an almost real-time picture of stock-outs in the four target countries. After a successful launch and a week piloting the service, the “stock-out hub number” will now be distributed to medicine users throughout each country so that anyone with a mobile phone can send in a stock-out report. Unlike reports from official, known data collectors, these messages will firstly be checked by staff at Health Action International (HAI Africa) before being posted up on the map.
The technological portion of the campaign was implemented by Michael Ballard and Claudio Midolo, both Open Society Fellows from the Department of Design + Technology at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. Ndesanjo Macha also helped in getting FrontlineSMS up and running in Uganda and Malawi.
For further background information and up-to-date news, visit the “Stop Stock-Outs” website.