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Best practice

SMS for Life 2.0 expands to further prevent stock-outs of medicines




Enhanced mobile technology supply chain management system now in more countries and for a wider range of products.


Cameroon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Zambia. 


To reduce medicine stock-outs in primary health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa.


In resource constrained settings, health facilities frequently run out of essential medicines, creating access barriers for patients.

In countries where resources are constrained, and problems exist in supply chains, patients can find it difficult to get essential medicines and commodities, especially if they live in remote areas. Local health facilities will often experience stock-outs of essential medicines, meaning it is unavailable for the patient when they need it. 

How does this initiative prevent stock-outs?
In 2009, supported by public and private partners, Novartis launched SMS for Life, aiming to improve the management of drug inventories in sub-Saharan African countries. Using basic SMS mobile technology, the initiative worked initially in Tanzania to improve stock visibility and prevent public health facilities from running out of antimalarial medications.

Over the years, SMS for Life has demonstrated considerable success in reducing stock outs, using technologies that are simple, affordable and widely available. By making information visible to district medical officers responsible for treatment, and providing opportunities to monitor and support operations in health facilities, the initiative helps individuals take fact-based decisions in assessing the adequacy of resource allocation, against actual needs. It was rolled out to more than 10,000 public health facilities in Kenya, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, and was recognised by the Index in 2016 as a best practice in supply chain capacity building.

Novartis updated and enhanced SMS for Life 2.0 uses tablets to improve stock management of essential medicines. ©Novartis Foundation

What is new in the updated version?
Novartis launched SMS for Life 2.0 late in 2016, and is now implementing this enhanced version in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia, with the aim of monitoring a wider range of products at peripheral healthcare facilities.

SMS for Life 2.0 uses updated technology including smartphones and tablets, and has expanded its range to include vaccines and medicines for HIV, tuberculosis and leprosy, with potential to include treatments for non-communicable diseases. The new version run on the tablets also allows for disease monitoring in line with the country’s needs, and also delivers high-quality training to healthcare workers through eLearning modules, available on demand.

What makes this a best practice?
Scaled up and enhanced, this improved version of SMS for Life has the benefit of being established and proven as a model. It continues to represent a best practice in supply-chain capacity building, meeting all good practice standards.

To ensure it addresses local need, Novartis deploys SMS for Life 2.0 only in countries where local authorities specifically request assistance, and where a country’s ministry of health defines the need. It designs and implements activities in partnership with governments and Vodacom, the African mobile communications group. To ensure activities are sustainable, SMS for Life 2.0 works closely with ministries of health, putting management into local hands from the start. Novartis funds the first two years including all start-up costs with expectation for the government to take over costs afterwards. Novartis supports the ministry of health in either budgeting to keep the system running or in finding innovative means to support the government to maintain the system.

SMS for Life 2.0 has clear goals and objectives. Novartis works with university and other third parties to conduct evaluations of the initiative, specifically Boston University School of Public Health (in Zambia) and the Swiss Tropical Public Health Institute (in Tanzania). Previous studies of the original SMS for Life initiative have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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