What if you could track donations of medicines that help treat over one billion of the world’s poorest people against neglected tropical diseases, the same way you track a package you order on Amazon?

In a new TED talk, Christian Schröter, a biochemist from Merck KGaA, describes the innovative work of our NTD supply chain partners who have developed digital tools to track donated medicines from their central warehouses all the way to the point of treatment – often in remote, rural communities across Africa.

Summary of the TED talk

Christian began his talk by recognising last year’s Guinness World Record achievement for the most medicines donated in 24 hours.

“This record is about treating the poorest people of the world against debilitating diseases called neglected tropical diseases”

The biologist shares the story of a boy called Geroge who is infected with schistosomiasis. The disease stunts the boy’s development – leaving him tired and making it difficult for him to concentrate in school.

The parasite for schistosomiasis is found in standing water. Every time people step into the water, they risk infection. To treat schistosomiasis, our partners provide yearly treatment of praziquantel to individuals in at-risk areas.

Tracking shipments from donation to the endemic country

Christian Schröter’s role at Merck KGaA is to make sure tablets are produced in their factory in Mexico and shipped to the recipient countries.

Shipping donated medicines to their recipient countries is a challenge due to:

  • import procedures being complex and time-consuming
  • weak infrastructure in endemic countries

Lots of committed partners have to collaborate to ensure these shipments reach those in need, including:

  • donors
  • logistic service providers
  • the World Health Organization
  • local authorities and partners involved in the treatment campaigns

Without this collaboration and partnership work, we risk shipment delays and potentially missing a treatment campaign.

2 years ago, supply chain partners worked with digital experts to create a shipment tracker to meet the needs of our partners and ensure treatments reach those in need. Their new NTDeliver tool tracks shipment from the original donation to the first warehouse in the country.

The new system allows them to send an email with the shipment details to local experts, who can check the status of their shipment and make sure it matches their local campaign planning. They expect it to improve the speed and reliability of treatments in endemic countries.

Tracking shipments from in-country central warehouse to treatment points across the endemic country

Local organisations need to make sure that the tablets are being distributed to the various treatment points across their country. At the moment though, there’s a limited overview of local shipments and inventories.

Christian Schröter highlights the amazing work of people who take care of the treatments by coordinating massive treatment campaigns. However, they need more support on the supply chain side in-country as sometimes things can go wrong. For example, leftover drugs from the previous year’s campaigns not being channelled into next year’s campaign.

To track shipments all the way to the treatment points, they needed to know how many tablets were being used at each treatment point. With the high-density of mobile connectivity – even in rural areas of Africa, they have tested a tool in Kenya, using text messaging input.

Teachers at the school-based treatment campaigns would send a text message with the drug batch number and the number of tablets used. This information would then be automatically added to the system.

 

With this pilot, the supply chain partners have shown that – for the first time ever – we can have end-to-end visibility of our shipments. All in one place, in real-time, on a mobile phone.

Future potential of the system

Christian offered a few suggestions of how this new tool will allow us to be more efficient and effective with our mass treatment campaigns in the future.

The system could highlight when a school has only used a small number of their tablets. As praziquantel needs to be taken after a meal, the school may not have had enough food to issue the treatment. With the real-time nature of this system, local experts can work with the teachers to make the food available and have the children back on the treatment schedule within days.

Christian suggested the tool could also help replace paper-based treatment reports that take around 12 months to become available with data available immediately, in real-time. He suggested combining:

to calculate the number of doses needed in the coming years, based on real-time data. He likened it to those self-ordering fridges that are available now!

Conclusion

Throughout his talk, Christian highlighted the importance of collaboration between partners from different sectors in the fight against neglected tropical diseases. The NTDeliver tool will help us deliver more effective and efficient mass treatment campaigns across the globe.

“[With these tools], we will increase the impact of the donation and accelerate the journey towards control and elimination of these diseases.”