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Using Tech for Development: Right to Health for Every Mama & Mtoto in Tanzania

posted Apr 30, 2018, 12:10 AM by GAVI CSO
By Aleena Khan, Programme Officer – Amref Health Africa UK

Driving through the hustle and bustle of Shinyanga city, we arrived in Mwime village, Kahama district, to meet with the health facility in-charge at the local dispensary. Mwime Dispensary is one of 50 health facilities in Tanzania that is using the innovative mVacciNation mobile health application deployed by Amref Health Africa in Geita and Shinyanga regions. 

A handy smartphone app, mVacciNation allows healthcare workers to not only capture individual records for each child they vaccinate, but also record vaccine temperatures and stock levels. This data synchronises with the cloud in real time and sends alert messages to parents or caregivers to remind them about the next vaccination visit, and to district immunisation officers in case a technician is needed for cold chain maintenance, or more vaccines to avoid stock-out. The aim is to make it as easy as possible to overcome barriers to immunisation in parts of the country that might otherwise be out-of-reach or have a weak health system, thereby reducing the number of child deaths caused by vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Mwime Dispensary plays a vital role in the community, offering health services to four villages in its catchment area: Mwime, Ilindi, Chapulwa and Mwendakulima. Women and children often visit Mwime Dispensary for vaccinations, among other maternal and child health services, and share their experiences with health workers. The beauty of mVacciNation is that it creates a link between the community and the health facility through the SMS reminder texts. These texts have led to an increase in visits for vaccinations, and have also enhanced male involvement in health-seeking behaviour for children. One woman from a neighbouring village shared: “My husband used to not allow me to go to the health facility for healthcare services. However, when we started to receive the reminder messages and the sensitisation, he became more supportive and he accompanies me and the child to the health centre for the vaccination appointment”.

We met Sundi Mpandachalo, the Clinical Officer and the health facility in-charge, and Phelician Mkola, the Kahama District Immunisation Officer (DIO) who shared their experiences with mVacciNation and the changes it has brought about in their work.

Sundi has found the mVacciNation platform to be user-friendly, especially to log in stock and temperature levels. She also shared that the SMS reminder feature is unique to mVacciNation: “Healthcare workers receive an SMS reminder to log in the stock and temperature levels, while caregivers/parents receive an SMS reminder about the vaccination visit three days before the due date. This gives them enough time to prioritise and plan for their visit,” she says. Mwime experiences power outages often so Sundi is very happy that the system can be used offline and by any mobile subscriber. “Even if the electricity comes and goes or the network signal is bad, my work continues!” she said.

The mVacciNation innovation has the capacity to significantly impact the speed and flow of communication regarding the availability and viability of vaccine stocks. Phelician shared that mVacciNation has made the supply chain process a lot more efficient as the DIOs receive updates and alerts in real time. “User-friendly reports are also generated through the system which help both the DIOs and health workers save time,” he said.

Amref has worked in close partnership with GSK, Vodafone, Mezzanine and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDEC) for mVacciNation. Since the platform was deployed in 2016, 100 healthcare workers from 50 facilities in Tanzania have been trained to use it, resulting in the registration of 95,068 children and caregivers, 315,660 immunisations per antigen, 17,636 stock updates captured, 22,465 temperature updates submitted, and SMS reminders sent to 13,813 registered caregivers. 

Amref hopes to roll out mVacciNation in more health facilities and is exploring integration with Vaccine Information Management System (VIMS), the national-level online system which captures stock and coverage data from the district to the national level, and other technology platforms to create a single, multi-sided, multi-purpose platform in Tanzania. Through the mVacciNation platform,
Amref hopes to play its part in promoting the right to health for all women and children in a cost-effective and innovative manner. 

L – R: Phelician Mkola (District Immunisation Officer, Kahama), Sundi Mpandachalo (Health Facility In-Charge, Mwime Dispensary) and Bahati Shaame (Project Officer, Amref Health Africa Tanzania) reviewing the mVacciNation platform reports at a dispensary in Shinyanga Region. Credit: Amref Health Africa UK / Aleena Khan.