mTrac – Changing the face of health service delivery in Uganda using SMS
Imagine limping into a clinic with a heavy bout of malaria in a remote Sub-county clinic in North Eastern Uganda, not knowing if you will walk out alive and well reports UNICEF’s Yusuf Atef. Only to find that – thanks to an innovative system called mTrac – you do walk out alive, well and in possession of all the proper drugs you need.
mTrac is a new phone-based system that is enabling health workers across the country to directly communicate with the Ministry of Health using simple text messages. With a phone in hand, any clinician can alert public-health officials ‘in real time’ of disease outbreaks and depletion of critical drugs.
mTrac is reshaping the work of over 8,000 village health teams (VHTs) across the Country. Jessica Nakawesi, a VHT worker in Bukomansimbi, describes the positive changes that the innovative system has made on her small clinic.
“With just a cheap, simple phone in my hand, I’ve seen diarrhoea and malaria cases decrease greatly in this village,” she says, adding that she no longer runs out of medicines to treat these and other ailments since she is able to alert the National Medical Stores (NMS) via mTrac’s SMS-based system when her stock runs low. Like Jessica, all the 8,000 other mTrac-trained VHTs in the country send SMSs to the toll-free 8200 shortcode, to report malaria, pneumonia, typhoid and other disease outbreaks to the health authorities in real time. They also report stock-outs of essential drugs such as anti-malarials (ACTs) and antibiotics (Amoxicillin). This enables medical experts to respond to disease outbreaks in record time and take preventative measures. Only a few months ago, it took them a whole month to receive a response through the existing paper-based system.
Ordinary citizens can also use the mTrac 8200 shortcode to provide feedback on the health system, such as commending health staff for good performance, reporting medicine stock-outs, health worker absenteeism or any other issues they may encounter.
mTrac – a Ministry of Health initiative – has allowed communities to engage in the daily running of their clinics and enabled VHTs to provide better medical services in more Districts, according to Henry Ssali,Technical Offi cer at the Malaria Consortium, who are training VHTs nationwide on mTrac. “mTrac emphasizes community ownership and advocacy – which is in line with the Ministry of Health’s driven Integrated Community Case Management”, says Ssali.
mTrac also enables the collection of more accurate real-time estimates of malaria cases, allowing medical staff to target the most vulnerable groups – especially mothers and their babies during outbreaks. The United Kingdoms’ Department of Foreign International Development (DFID) has injected USD $4.5million into the mTrac project. DfID believes that tracking the use and availability of essential medicines in communities using cellphones will accelerate Uganda’s efforts to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). “We visualize that within a short period of time mTrac will provide strategic health information necessary to improve delivery of health services in Uganda,” says Daniel Graymore, DfIDs’ Head of Office in Uganda.
mTrac is to be rolled out in the remaining 56 of the country’s 113 districts by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF, and other partners, ahead of 2015, the deadline year for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.