Cell phones have come a long way in the last decade. Today, one can talk, text message, shoot photos and video, send and receive e-mail, and even access the Web.
Now imagine using cell phone to make available qualty anti-malaria drug in villages and romote parts of Nigeria where people lack access to standard medicine stores.
This is the thrust of an initiative that Future Health Systems (FHS), Nigeria under the coordination of Professor Oladimeji Oladepo, is embarking on after a study by this consortium meant to find ways to translate political and financial commitments of government to meet the health needs of the poor, realized there was dearth of information on the new anti malarial policy.
Moreover the appropriate malaria drugs for effective malaria treatment was notreadlt available in every nook and cranny of the country.
Says Prof Oladepo : “We realized that the diffusion of cell phones in Nigeria is very high and that its use is not limited to urban communities, but also penetrates rural areas. Also, Short Message Service (SMS) is also widely used. This is a type of technology which can be put to use to improve access of patient medicine vendors (PMVs) to appropriate and quality malaria medicine, especially since the generality of the public consisting of about 70 per cent use their services.”
The 2007 study reveal that patients were not getting appropriate and efficacious anti-malarial drugs from venders.
Overall, 43 per cent of them were aware of the new government policy stipulating that a change of drug for malaria treatment from chloroquine to anteminisine combination therapy (ACT). Awareness level varies all over the country‑ 51.3 per cent in Ibadan, a city in the Southwestern; 9.7 per cent in Kaduna, North Central; and 6.3 per cent in Enugu, South East Nigeria. The inventory of anti-malarial drugs on sale indicated that 2.1 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 27.8 per cent sell ACT, the government stipulated medicine in Ibadan, Kaduna and Enugu, respectively.
Says Professor Oladepo, “We can explore this technology to bridge information gap on anti-malarial drugs policy, government drug regulations and guidelines and ensure there is a feedback from PMVs to government officials on adverse reactions on drugs, including those from malarial drugs they sell. They have their own concerns too and would want to seek clarification on new malarial drugs just coming to the market, ascertain whether they are genuine or validate their NAFDAC number.”
But what format is this to take for effectiveness? According to Professor Oladepo, “from a dedicated set of toll- free cell phone lines, which a communication outfit is considering to provide, health workers manning the desk can send SMS on issues relating to drugs to them and PMVs can similarly through these lines communicate their concerns, ask questions on drug related issues.
Says Prof Oladepo: “We can explore this technology to bridge the information gap o n a n t i - m a l a r i a l d r u g s p o l i c y, government drug regulations and guidelines and ensure there is a feedback from the vendors to government officials on adverse reactions on drugs, including those from the malarial drugs they sell.They have their own concerns too and would want to seek clarification on new malarial drugs just coming into the market to ascertain whether they are genuine or validate their National Agency for Food and Dru g Administration and Control Number .
But how would it work? Prof Oladepo explains: “From a dedicated set of toll- f r e e c e l l p h o n e l i n e s , w h i c h communication outfit is considering providing, health workers manning the desk can send SMS on issues relating to drugs to them and the vendors can then communicate their concerns and ask questions on drug-related issues.
The initiative could impact on the treatment of other diseases too. “This would advance primary health care services, especially in the management of malaria, and ensure reduction of counterfeit or low standard drugs in circulation, thus impacting on treatment of several diseases in the community.”
Cell phones are already in use in the management of diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Diabetics take photos of their meals and send them to their doctors and dieticians, who assess whether they are eating the right amount and quality of food.