MBABANE – SWAPOL has rolled out an initiative to track drug shortages in community health facilities through the use of mobile phones.
The initiative is known as Tracking Access to Essential Medicines (Tendai) and has been achieved through the support of South African Regional Programme on Access of Medicines and Diagnostics (SARPAM).
SWAPOL is an acronym for Swaziland Positive Living.
This initiative uses mobile phones with special software to capture pictures, administer questionnaires and keep track of pharmaceutical availability in community clinics.
Trained community monitors are able to track the quality of medicine and shortage of health workers, through monthly visits to the dispensaries in community clinics. The project seeks to mobilise communities to push for access to affordable treatment particularly for those living with HIV.
Last week, about 20 community-based monitors, mobilised by SWAPOL, took part in the two-day training that was held at Lugogo Sun.
Over the two days, they were taken through theory and practical sessions on how to use the specialised software on mobile phones to monitor drug shortages and capture stories on access to medicine.
They were also assisted on how to download the latest version of the software online.
SWAPOL Project Coordinator Cebile Dlamini said the objective of the project is to promote access to essential medicines in community clinics.
Asked why the project targets community clinics, Dlamini indicated that clinics are the first point of call for primary health care in rural communities.
She said, as SWAPOL, they have noted with concern several challenges which include, but not limited to non-adherence to treatment, particularly for people on antiretroviral treatment (ART).
“These clients sometimes do not get the regular three-month supply of drugs due to shortages or stock-outs.
“As a result, we want to use this initiative to track availability of basic and popular medicines in clinics. We also want clients to share their multi-shaded clinic experience,” she explained.
Dlamini said they are using a local convenience shop model. Communities generally readily find all the basic goods like bread, sugar and salt, for instance, in a local convenience shop. Through this initiative, we will be able to flag some of the challenges faced by community clinics in terms of ensuring that they readily find ten basic medication for children and adults,’ she said.
On a monthly basis, the trained monitors will keep track of stock levels at the clinics and after a space of about six months; it would be possible to analyse the trends on what they find on a monthly basis.
Regional trainer Daniel Molokele of the Tracking Access to Essential Medicines (Tendai) said one of the basic requirements of this initiative was access to internet either through a mobile phone or Wi-Fi.
Molokele is focusing on social mobilisation and advocacy as it relates to access to medicines.
He said through this innovation, the community monitors will capture data on availability of drugs in health centres, and provide stories on key developments taking place within communities.
“Much as drug shortage impacts clients negatively, on the flipside, it presents a business opportunity for pharmacies in southern Africa.
“We don’t want people on treatment to queue for hours to receive their medication so we need to mobilize for the production of generic drugs in southern Africa.
“Some of these developing countries are still exempt from some of the restrictive laws on the production of generic drugs. As such, they can produce drugs which can be supplied to other countries in southern Africa,” Molokele said.
The Tracking Access to Essential Medicines (Tendai) initiative is inherently an advocacy tool.
Civil society activists mobilised through this initiative are expected to operationalise findings from clinics by making proposals for policy changes.
This is known as evidence-based advocacy to ensure that people readily have access to treatment.
The activists will also facilitate linkages with tertiary institutions which carry out research on health issues.
NERCHA Director Khanya Mabuza said in an era where the country is moving towards embracing treatment of HIV as prevention, it has become increasingly critical to eliminate all kinds of barriers that hinders or compromises access to treatment.