Technology plays an important role not in the development of drugs to treat diseases in the developing world but in building healthcare capacity, enhancing the supply chain in delivering drugs to remote areas, and in patient compliance and education. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently partnered with the mobile communications giant Vodafone to use innovative mobile technology to help vaccinate more children against common infectious diseases in Africa. The recent partnership is part of GSK’s efforts to improve access to vaccination.
Despite major advances in the funding and availability of vaccines worldwide, it is estimated that up to one-fifth of children worldwide still do not receive basic vaccines, according to a recent GSK press release. The proliferation of mobile phones in Africa offers an opportunity to create innovative and cost-effective ways to address barriers to universal vaccination.
The initial focus of the new partnership will be a one-year pilot vaccination project in Mozambique, supported by Save the Children and to be run in collaboration with the Mozambique Ministry of Health. This project aims to use technology solutions to increase the proportion of children covered by vaccination in Mozambique by an additional 5–10% by helping to encourage mothers to take up vaccination services, support health workers, improve record-keeping, and enable better management of vaccine stock. If successful, the project can create a model that can be replicated throughout Mozambique and scaled across Africa, according to the GSK release.
“Innovative technologies, whether mobile devices, medicines or vaccines, are helping to transform global health,” said GSK CEO Andrew Witty in the GSK release. Organizations, such as UNICEF and GAVI, have played a key role in making vaccines much more accessible in Africa, but barriers still exist that stop children from benefiting from basic immunization. This new partnership combines GSK’s expertise, knowledge and resources with those of Vodafone with the potential to deliver life-saving vaccines to tens of thousands more children in Mozambique. Our hope is that together we will create a sustainable and scalable model that could ultimately be replicated to help more children live healthy lives across developing countries.”
The pilot will use mobile technology to address barriers to increased take-up of vaccines in Mozambique in three key ways. First, mothers and caregivers will be registered on a Mozambique Ministry of Health database and alerted by short message service (SMS) to the availability and importance of vaccinations against common childhood diseases. Mothers will be able to schedule vaccination appointments by SMS and receive notifications of past and future vaccinations to ensure children complete the full schedule and become fully immunized.
Secondly, health workers will be provided with smartphones with software allowing them to contact mothers, view and record vaccination histories, schedule vaccinations and report on follow-up visits. Thirdly, healthcare facilities will be prompted to regularly report on crucial vaccination stock levels by SMS. These efforts will enable critical supply-chain management and the availability of vaccines when and where they are needed, particularly in rural areas, notes GSK in its release.
The pilot will include up to 100 clinics and will be independently tested to prove its impact, effectiveness, and cost benefits. To ensure open access, the platform will be available to caregivers across any mobile network and can be used to increase take-up of any selected vaccine.
GSK’s vaccines are included in immunization campaigns in 173 countries worldwide, and of the 1.1 billion vaccine doses delivered in 2011, 870 million doses (more than 80%), were shipped for use in developing countries. In 2010, GSK created the dedicated Developing Countries and Market Access operating unit, which is focused on expanding access to medicines for people in the developing countries. In least-developed countries, GSK focuses on increasing the volume of medicines supplied rather than revenue generated. It caps the prices of GSK patented medicines and vaccines at no more than 25% of developed-world prices and reinvests 20% of profits back into projects that strengthen healthcare infrastructure in these countries. Vodafone has experience in developing commercial mobile-health solutions in other African countries. Five thousand clinics across Tanzania currently use Vodafone’s mobile stock-management service to track malaria treatments, and more than 1800 remote community healthcare workers in South Africa are using a mobile solution to access and update patient records.
Since 2011, GSK has been involved in an initiative using mobile technology to help tackle the issue of counterfeit medicines in Africa, where 10–30% of all medicines sold are thought to be counterfeit, notes the GSK press release. In collaboration with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria, GSK introduced packs of antibiotics that contain a scratch-off panel that reveals a unique code that can sent by text message to verify a product as genuine. Following this successful pilot, NAFDAC has mandated that a similar technology be applied to all antibiotics and antimalarials in Nigeria from next year. GSK is introducing similar programs in Kenya and Tanzania, with the hope to scale up such program across East Africa. In Rwanda, GSK has a partnership with the private enterprise One Family Health Foundation, Ecobank, and the Rwandan Ministry of Health to establish up to 250 health posts across Rwanda over the next three years. Funded through low-interest loans, community nurses set up their own clinics in areas of low healthcare infrastructure to deliver essential medicines and basic healthcare in remote locations. Nurses are provided with Internet-enabled mobile phones, thereby allowing them to access patient records and monitor stocks of medicines in real-time. This approach not only increases access to healthcare but also provides a sustainable income for the healthcare workers involved.