The National Department of Health (NDoH) in partnership with Vodacom has deployed a custom-built mHealth app, called the Stock Visibility Solution (SVS), in 3,126 clinics across the country to monitor drug stock levels and reduce drug stock-outs.

According to the NDoH, the SVS has been fully deployed and is fully functional in all urban and rural South African clinics across eight provinces.

South Africa has the world’s largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) programme with an estimated 3.1 million people who are receiving treatment as of the end of March 2015. With the new “Test and Treat” antiretroviral (ARV) treatment strategy announced by the Minister of Health in May 2016, the expected increase in patients receiving ARVs will place further pressure on the country’s medicine supply systems to deliver the volumes of treatment needed.

Speaking at the media launch of the SVS mHealth app in Midrand, Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said: “The NDoH is using the latest technology to improve health care service delivery and patient outcomes in South Africa. The SVS enables us to increase access to medicine by allowing the NDoH to track critical supply chains at any given time.”

“We are able to monitor real-time visibility of stock levels in clinics to ensure that South Africans always have access to the healthcare they need, particularly for those patients who rely on chronic medication,” continued Dr Motsoaledi.

The NDoH first partnered with Vodacom in 2013 to develop and deploy SVS to improve the drug supply chain network in South Africa. Prior to the development of the app, the NDoH relied on manual processes to manage drug stock levels in South Africa’s primary healthcare system as not all clinics are equipped with ICT systems.

During this period, stock-outs of critical medicines in clinics arose largely as a result of the inability to visibly monitor myriad stock levels across the country.

This was also complicated by delays in stock order deliveries to pharmaceutical depots and inadequate notice periods pertaining to low stock levels. The mobile technology provides a solution to these challenges.

“Mobile technology remains a powerful tool for us to successfully address South Africa’s healthcare challenges and the proliferation of smartphones in particular is changing the notion of healthcare delivery,” said Vodacom Business Chief Executive, Vuyani Jarana.

“The NDoH approached Vodacom to develop a solution to clinic drug stock-outs challenges, which historically was a major supply chain challenge. Vodacom responded with an innovative mobile app that is being used to further social good in our country by delivering quality healthcare to all South Africans. This is an example of public-private collaboration at its best and we will continue to invest in technology and partner with key stakeholders to make a difference in healthcare delivery,” continued Jarana.

The SVS allows health clinic dispensaries to report on stock levels on the shelves through graphs and heat maps. The app also allows for scheduled SMS notifications and automated alerts for reduced stock levels.

SVS uses data aggregated from the clinics to produce reports via both SMS and email which are sent to district and provincial government management. The data in turn enables pharmacy supply chain management to improve the accuracy and efficiency of stock distribution, which has had a proven impact in increasing access to quality healthcare.

“Proper stock management is essential for providing medicines to patients when and where they need them,” said Management Sciences for Health (MSH) Country Representative, Bada Pharasi.

“This is especially important for people living with HIV because treatment is a lifelong commitment and adherence is critical to good health outcomes,” concluded Pharasi.

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