September 13, 2009

'Pill-check' SMS the cure?

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Activists who use cellphone text messages to expose missing essential drugs from clinics in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi say the same system would work well in South Africa. The Mail&GuardianOnline reports.

quotemarksright.jpgMembers of the public run a "pill check", visiting public hospitals to check the availability of drugs at their local clinic or hospital pharmacy.

If they are turned away on the grounds that essential items are out of stock, an SMS relays the news to another cellphone, this time linked to a computer run by the African wing of the civic group Health Action International (HAI).

Software automatically punches a red dot into an online map, as long as the activists use a code. (A normal SMS from a member of the public is put in manually, after staff double-check the information.)

As shortages worsen, the dot swells in size. When an internet user clicks on the dot, a pop-up bubble displays details of what is out of stock -- contradicting possible government denials.

Within one week more than 250 out-of-stock medicines -- including anti-malarials, penicillin, antiretrovirals, diarrhoea medication and zinc tablets -- were reported in the four countries. More than 100 public hospitals and clinics in Kenya alone were exposed for operating without essential medicines. quotesmarksleft.jpg

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