Economic Development / Extra Mile

Improving Healthcare Delivery

Best known for saving data, IBM is helping to save lives.

July 1, 2014
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Best known for saving data, IBM is helping to save lives.

The high-tech company announced a collaboration with the Zambian Ministry of Health and a host of organizations to improve healthcare delivery. The collaborative effort includes the World Bank, the Department for International Development, UNICEF and London Business School, and Zambia’s Medical Stores Limited (MSL).

Together, they will deploy a new medical supply chain pilot project using sophisticated analytics and mobile technologies to manage medicine inventory and delivery.

The Ministry of Health is introducing technology to manage a scalable supply chain and control the use, 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 analyzing data to identify trends and forecasts to prevent gaps in the medical supply chain.

“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 Dr. Bonface Fundafunda, CEO of MSL. “To build on these gains, we’re 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.”

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.

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

“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 don’t work, there are terrible consequences.”

The analytics capabilities will be integrated with the IBM 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 utilization details to a central inventory control system. This will ensure continued access to vital medication and enhanced understanding of the usage patterns of vital medication.

To achieve the best availability of medicine in the health centers, the program will leverage ILOG optimization 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, 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 of Tanzania.

 “Besides potential lives saved, a digital system based on timely data could have related benefits such as lower costs, better management of scarce resources, better procurement decisions, and improved accountability throughout the supply chain,” said Jérémie Gallien, associate professor of management and operations, London Business School, who led the academic research. 

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