SMS printers improve health service delivery

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Alvine Kapitako

Mashare-Fifteen years ago Johannes Munango was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).
Though Munango sought medical attention when he started feeling sick, he only got to know he was suffering from TB three months after his blood samples were taken.

“The doctors only told me when I was bedridden that I had TB and that was when they started treating me,” said the 43-year-old security guard.

In March this year, Munango was again diagnosed with TB. This time he was diagnosed with the disease one day after tests were done.

Munango would have probably suffered the same fate had it not been for the introduction of the short message system (SMS) printer at Mashare clinic, situated about 46 kilometres from Rundu.

Mashare clinic is one of the 39 health facilities in Kavango East and Kavango West that use the SMS printer. Each of the 232 clinics across the country has one SMS printer.

Through a collaborative partnership with the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) and funding from the United States of America President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Namibia has supported the provision of SMS printers to clinics.

The SMS printer has a SIM card and a phone number. By using this technology, laboratory staff are able to transmit test results to Mashare clinic as soon as they are ready from the laboratory.

This reduces the turnaround time, which is a challenge for health facilities in rural areas.
In the past, test results were sent though the NIP regional office by post to a district hospital.

These results were collected by the primary healthcare team and delivered to the respective clinics.
Due to the vastness of the country and the number of clinics needed to serve the communities it often took long for results to be picked up and delivered to the respective clinics.

The long distances meant that collections had to be part of other scheduled pick-ups and outreach visits.
Alphons Dikuua, a nurse at Mashare clinic, said the printer has improved health service delivery by reducing the time it takes for the results of a blood test to get back to the patient.

He also explained that there is a driver at the clinic who takes the blood samples to the laboratory on Wednesdays while the NIP driver collects the blood samples on Tuesdays.

“We don’t wait for Tuesdays if there is an emergency. Sometimes it used to take a month for the patients to get their results but now it takes a maximum three days to get the results,” said Dikuua.

It takes one day to get results for blood samples for haemoglobin and creatinine, said the nurse. However, blood tests to check for CD4 and viral load can take up to three days, added Dikuua.

“This technology is helpful because in the case of HIV it’s helping us to see whether the viral load is high or low and to see if the medicine is working or not,” said the nurse.  

Meanwhile, Thomas Daughton, the U.S ambassador to Namibia, said the steps involved and the potential for delay meant that results could take a few days to reach the patient.

“Sometimes it could take even months to reach the patient and at worst results were lost. As a result, a patient may not have received a diagnosis, may have continued on a failing treatment regimen or may have discontinued a problematic treatment regimen but been lost to follow up,” Daughton remarked.
For now, Munango is completing his TB treatment.

“That SMS technology really made a difference in my life because I started treatment early and I will complete my treatment this month,” said the father of four. Also praising the introduction of the SMS printers was a 28-year-old woman who refused to be named.

“When I was pregnant with my first child I was referred to Shambyuu state hospital. But this year when I was expecting my second child I didn’t have to pay N$30 for them to take blood samples at Shambyuu state hospital,” said the woman.

Sharing similar thoughts, 26-year old Agnes Ndango, a health extension worker at Mashare, said people were reluctant to test for HIV because the results did not come immediately in the absence of rapid HIV testing services.

“This technology is really helpful because people are saving on their transport money to collect their results,” said Ndango.

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