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SMS for Life

Active Since: 2009

Contributing to SDGs…

Using simple and affordable technologies so that health facilities that dispense essential medicines can report their stock levels and key disease surveillance indicators to the district medical officers who are responsible for treatment availability.



  • Academia or research institute

    Kenya Medical Research Institute

  • Bilateral Organisations

    Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

    Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

    US Agency for International Development (USAID)

    Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad)

  • Global NGOs

    Population Services International (PSI)

    Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM)

    Benelux Afro Center

    Malaria No More

    Management Sciences for Health (MSH)

  • Government

    Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    Democratic Republic of Congo Ministry of Health

    Ghana Health Service (GHS)

    Kaduna State Ministry of Health

    Tanzania Ministry of Health

    Zambian Ministry of Health

  • Local NGOs

    Right to Care

  • Private foundation or development organization

    Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH)

  • Product development partnerships

    Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV)

  • Technology


  • Telecoms



    Vodacom Tanzania


  • Bring visibility to medicine and vaccine stock levels in remote public health facilities.
  • Improve access to essential medicines and vaccines at the point of care, the health facility, by eliminating stock-outs.
  • Provide an infrastructure to allow collection of disease surveillance information.
  • Provide training programs to healthcare workers through smartphones and tablet computers.

What are the health needs and challenges?

Maintaining adequate supplies of medicines in health facilities in rural sub-Saharan Africa is a major barrier to the effective management of life-threatening diseases like malaria. Lack of visibility of medicine stock levels at the health facility level is an important contributor to this problem. Further, maternal mortality due to lack of access to blood stocks is a major problem. Bringing online visibility to these stocks seeks to alleviate this problem.

Appropriate disease management (diagnosis and treatment) is a key part of any effective healthcare system. Lack of timely data on patient numbers, confirmed diagnosis and treatment practices is a major obstacle to monitoring progress in disease management and to taking effective improvement measures.

Partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Led by Novartis and supported by public and private partners, SMS for Life was initially launched in 2009 to help prevent stock-outs of antimalarials in Tanzania. SMS for Life has since been rolled out in more than 10,000 public health facilities in Kenya, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Over the years, the scope of the program has also expanded to more disease areas and health parameters.

Building on the success of SMS for Life, a new enhanced version, SMS for Life 2.0 was launched in 2016. The enhanced system has been roled out in Kaduna State Nigeria as well in the northern provinces of Zambia.

How the system works

The solution is based on the use of simple and affordable technologies (mobile phones, SMS messages, smartphones and tablet computers, the Internet and electronic mapping) so that health facilities that dispense essential medicines can report their stock levels and key disease surveillance indicators to the district medical officers who are responsible for treatment availability.

In addition to stock visibility, the system enables to collect timely and quality disease surveillance data, hence allowing all levels in the health pyramid (districts, regions, national malaria control programs, ministries of health) to monitor and support the operations in the primary health facilities – ultimately making fact-based decisions to better assess the adequacy of the resource allocation with the actual needs. Stock-outs can thus be resolved in 2-3 days whereas in the past this would have taken one or two months.

The tablet-based platform also offers high-quality training programs and educational video resources to support the continuous education of health workers.

The data collected by SMS for Life can be integrated into a country’s health information system and strategy. Implementation is tailored to the specific needs and priorities of individual countries, and the system is flexible, meaning it can be expanded to any number of health facilities, countries, programs, stock items or disease surveillance data.

To date, SMS for Life (phone-based version) has been rolled out in more than 10,000 public health facilities in Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.

In Tanzania, with support from Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Population Services International (PSI), SMS for life was implemented in the country’s 5,100 health facilities. This project was also supported by the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, IBM, Google, Vodafone and Vodacom. Tracking of tuberculosis and leprosy medicines, funded by the Novartis Foundation, has also been added.

In Kenya, Novartis supported the completion of an extensive pilot together with the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP).

In Ghana, following a successful pilot in six districts, sponsored by the Swiss TPH Institute, we worked with the Ghana Health Service on a full country scale-up. The system is also tracking 28 blood products from the National Blood Transfusion Service and from 10 regional hospitals in the greater Accra region. The online information on availability of blood products has helped reduce maternal mortality in child birth from hemorrhage.

The platform was rolled out in Cameroon across more than 3,000 facilities to track malaria medicines and collect patient surveillance data in 2015.

In an initiative led by the President’s Malaria Initiative and rolled out by Greenmash, SMS for Life was implemented in five provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,245 health facilities). Further, the solution was also used to track bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and disease surveillance data, as well as antibiotics, medicines against leprosy and tuberculosis, and blood supplies.

SMS for Life has proven to work and be effective in both the multi-country pilots and country scale-ups where thousands of health facility workers have now been reporting their medicine stocks on a weekly basis for some years. Bringing visibility to the stock levels on a weekly basis has proven to have a direct impact on better medicine stock management, reduction of stock-outs and a consequent increase in access to medicines at the remote health facility level. The main innovation and contribution of the program has been to design and develop an enterprise standard, in the form of a fully scalable, expandable and sustainable solution, which can be offered at an affordable price to resource-poor countries. The infrastructure, which has shown to work in the difficult target environment, now exists and is supported by at least three industry-leading technology suppliers the SMS for Life team has worked with.

SMS for Life 2.0

Building on the success of SMS for Life, a new enhanced version, SMS for Life 2.0 was launched in 2016 in Kaduna State, Nigeria’s third most populous region, together with the Kaduna State Ministry of Health and Vodacom. The new program addressed key operational challenges at peripheral healthcare facilities (dispensaries, health posts, healthcare and medical centers) in Kaduna State.

Using smartphones and tablet computers, local healthcare workers can track stock levels of essential antimalarials, vaccines, and HIV, TB and leprosy treatments, and send notifications to district medical officers when stock levels are low. Tablet computers also allow for disease monitoring by supporting data collection of basic disease parameters in line with a country’s needs. The program also monitors surveillance parameters of malaria, maternal and infant deaths and seven other diseases, including measles, yellow fever and cholera. In addition, SMS for Life 2.0 enables training of healthcare workers in local facilities using on-demand eLearning modules that support continuous education. These resources can also be used to increase public awareness on health topics.

In addition to the launch in Nigeria, Novartis and its non-profit partner Right to Care signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 with the Zambian Ministry of Health to deploy SMS for Life 2.0 in 3 northern provinces with the prospect of expanding across the country. The program, which will include stock reporting, disease surveillance and eLearning, is supported by Vodacom and has been launched at the end of 2017.

SMS for Life 2.0 is also under discussion in other sub-Saharan countries as well as in countries accross the greater Mekong region. Further, the system could be extended to treatments against noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes or high-blood pressure. First versions are currently tested in Pakistan.

"Smart phones and tablets are opening up new prospects to achieve our most rewarding goal: the improvement of healthcare in remote facilities."
Marcel Braun
SMS for Life Program Head


SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

  1. 3.1: Reduce Maternal Mortality
  2. 3.2: Reduce Under-5 Mortality 
  3. 3.3: Communicable Diseases & NTDs
  4. 3.7: Access to sexual and reproductive health-care services 

SDG 5: Gender Equality

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals 


SMS for life has been awarded during the 3rd Commonwealth Digital Health Conference with the digital health award 2018 for the category emergency informatics.