GSK employs mobile phones to up vaccination rates in Africa

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) will take advantage of the ubiquitous mobile phone to increase vaccination rates in Africa. The pharma giant is teaming up with British mobile phone group Vodafone to use text messages to alert mothers about the availability of vaccinations and help them to schedule appointments.

The initial one-year pilot program will launch in Mozambique with support from Save the Children and the Mozambique Ministry of Health. Those involved want to see whether mobile technology can boost the number of children vaccinated 5% to 10%.

The Mozambique Ministry of Health will register mothers and caregivers to a database and alert them through SMS text messaging of the availability of lifesaving vaccinations. Mothers and guardians can also schedule vaccinations via text and receive notifications of future vaccines. Healthcare workers will also get mobile phones they can use to contact mothers, view and record vaccination histories, schedule vaccinations and report on follow-up visits. And finally, healthcare facilities will report on vaccination stock levels via text.

The program will include 100 clinics and give caregivers access across any mobile network.

"Organizations such as UNICEF and GAVI have played a key role in making vaccines much more accessible in Africa but barriers still exist which stop children from benefiting from basic immunization," GSK CEO Andrew Witty said in a statement. "This new partnership combines GSK's expertise, knowledge and resources with those of Vodafone with the potential to deliver lifesaving vaccines to tens of thousands more children in Mozambique."

Using text messaging to increase adherence to a vaccine schedule is not a concept unique to GSK; Pfizer ($PFE) advertises a downloadable app called Vaxtext that helps parents and caregivers track their child's vaccination schedule through timely reminders about which and when vaccines are due.

In a similar push to use mobile technology to help consumers, Sproxil hooked up with mobile giant Bharti Airtel in August to implement an SMS text-messaging system in parts of Africa that allows consumers to verify codes on pill bottles to figure out if they're the real thing. And some healthcare providers use mobile phones to check in with patients to ensure that they're taking their HIV/AIDS drugs properly.

- see GSK's release
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