Zambia and IBM improve access to life saving drugs

IBM analytics and mobile solutions will ensure medicine availability

A healthy mother and child at a Zambian health care centre. Photo Credit: UNICEF Zambia

IBM is working with the Zambian Ministry of Health to provide its people with improved access to 200 life saving drugs. Supported by the World Bank, the Department for International Development, UNICEF and London Business School, Zambiaís Medical Stores Limited (MSL) will take part in a new 12-month medical supply chain pilot project using sophisticated analytics and mobile technologies to manage medicine inventory and delivery more effectively.

The public health sector in Zambia registers 100,000 deaths annually due to preventable and treatable diseases. The goal of the medicine supply chain management project is to save more lives by making medicine widely available when and where it is needed.

The Ministry of Health is introducing innovative technology to manage a scalable supply chain and control the usage, supply, availability and access to essential medicine within the Zambian health sector. The solution will provide a real-time view of drug usage and stock while analysing data to identify trends and forecasts to prevent gaps in the medical supply chain.

A child receives a life saving vaccine at a health clinic in Zambia. The public health sector in Zambia registers 100,000 deaths annually due to preventable and curable diseases, often because of challenges in getting drugs to remote clinics. Photo Credit: UNICEF Zambia

'With help from our partners, we have already introduced simple improvements in the medical supply chain that will save the lives of thousands of children across our country by 2015,' said Bonface Fundafunda, CEO at MSL.

'To build on these gains, weíre working with IBM to replace our paper-based inventory system with cutting-edge technology that can pinpoint the exact locations where stocks of essential medicines are running dangerously low.'

Using the IBM SPSS medicine supply forecast model, which takes into account local conditions such as the local rainy season, lead time and differences in each districtís demographics, MSL will be able to determine the most efficient distribution of drugs across an initial 2,190 health centres.

'Zambia is taking strong action to prevent avoidable deaths by testing and deploying new methods to get drugs to people on time,' said John Makumba, Operations Officer, Africa Health Unit at the World Bank. 'Supply chains are invisible and low profile, but when they donít work, there are terrible consequences.'

The IBM Analytics capabilities will be integrated with the company's MobileFirst application development portfolio, enabling staff at health facilities in three Zambian districts to use mobile devices with barcode scanners to record and transmit stock and usage details to a central inventory control system. This will ensure continued access to vital medication and enhanced understanding of usage patterns.

We have already introduced simple improvements in the medical supply chain that will save the lives of thousands of children

To achieve the best availability of medicine in the health centres, the programme will leverage IBMís ILOG optimisation technology to calculate the ideal composition of drug shipments based on available inventory, resources and historical usage. The transparency of the system means that each district will have a real-time view of drug stock levels at the clinics and the ability to coordinate the transfer of supplies from one facility to another if required.

'The Zambian pilot is designed to be sustainable and locally owned,' said Peter Ward, Solution Manager at IBM. 'Our unique analytics technology can help save lives by ensuring access to safe and effective medicines where they are needed most.'

IBM was recently involved in a similar project to combat the number of deaths from malaria in Tanzania. Called SMS for Life, the solution was successfully piloted in 135 villages in remote areas and has now been rolled out across the whole country.

A young boy and his baby sister at a health centre in Zambia. The Ministry of Health has tapped IBM to provide 2,190 clinics with improved access to 200 life saving drugs. Photo Credit: UNICEF Zambia