ISIOLO, Kenya – As a frontline health-care worker at Isiolo County referral hospital, Denis Mutirithia has a critical role in saving lives – and a new digital tool to help him do so. The pharmaceutical technologist is tasked with predicting and preventing shortages and stockouts of essential medical supplies, including contraceptives.
If he receives stock from the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) on time, the hospital's patients will have access to the medicines they need, when they need them. But delayed supplies can unleash a litany of crises, from illness to unintended pregnancies and higher risk of maternal and newborn deaths.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged health systems and shuttered health facilities, family planning and contraceptives have been among the most extensively disrupted services. The costs are being borne by the most vulnerable women and girls, with spikes in unintended pregnancies reported among adolescent girls in some parts of Kenya.
“When a woman’s reproductive health is stuck, her life is also stuck,” said Editar Ochieng, founder of a women’s shelter and legal aid organization in Kibera, a sprawling slum in Nairobi. “Access to contraceptives is one of the most crucial empowerment tools that women in Kibera need to improve their lives, but often this is not available.”
Innovations empowering women
Now, a new mobile phone app is set to become a game changer for health-care workers like Mr. Mutirithia. The Electronic Proof of Deliveries, or e-POD app, keeps track of supplies to primary health facilities through the simple touch of a button and was developed to improve essential deliveries across Kenya.
“By checking the app on my phone, I am able to tell when a particular delivery of family planning commodities is expected to arrive. This helps us to advise clients accordingly, so that they get their method of choice at their next appointment,” he says.
The e-POD app received an award for best innovative health supply chain solution at the 2021 Global Health Supply Chain Summit in December 2021. So far, it has been rolled out in ten counties in the country and is expected to be available in all 47 counties by mid-2022.
The mobile app was developed as part of the Last Mile Kenya programme, implemented through a partnership between KEMSA and Coca-Cola Beverage Africa, with the support of UNFPA. It uses GPS to ensure that deliveries arrive where and when they are supposed to, and health facilities can easily report back on whether they received the correct specifications. The app also monitors order turnaround times to prevent delays that could lead to exhausted stocks of life-saving supplies.
Acting Chief Executive Officer of KEMSA, Edward Njoroge, said: “With this new system, we will be able to ensure deliveries to the correct health facilities, in the right quantities and at the right time.”
e-POD is one of two recent family planning tracking apps developed with support from UNFPA. The second is Qualipharm, created with local public health organization HealthStrat, to track consumption of family planning commodities at county, sub-county and facility level. These are, says Charity Koronya, of UNFPA, “a game changer, not only for health care staff but also for the citizens who rely on public health facilities to access life-saving commodities.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women’s access to family planning information and services around the world, with some 12 million women experiencing disruptions to family planning services since it started, particularly in low-income countries and marginalized communities.
UNFPA works with local and international partner organizations across Kenya to strengthen efforts to ensure universal access and rights to sexual and reproductive health care, reaching over 900,000 people with family planning services in 2020.