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'SMS for Life': Feature on Dr Norbert Nshembe
Olympia Wereko-Brobby, member of the SMS for Life pilot team spent the last year working on training healthcare workers in three pilot districts in Tanzania and conducting surveillance visits to track progress in participating clinics. She recounts her experiences working with Dr Norbert Nshembe: a doctor whose work as an 'SMS for Life champion' is making a significant impact in the field.
Our team first met Dr Norbert Nshembe at the 'SMS for Life' Health Facility Training Day held in Kigoma in October 2009. As part of the 'SMS for Life' project, launched in Tanzania, trainings were held in three pilot districts to teach healthcare workers how to send in their stock counts via SMS messages and how to properly store their antimalarial stocks. At the end of the training day, Dr Nshembe took home the prize for sending in the most accurate stock information.
Our second encounter with Dr Nshembe at the Mgambo Health Center in November 2009 was even more memorable. The Mgambo Health Center is situated on Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma District. The health facility is only accessible by boat, over a strenuous and costly twelve-hour journey from Kigoma town. There is no mobile phone connectivity in this part of Kigoma District. Contact with the District Management can me made only from the health center via a radio connection.
Dr Nshembe manages 5 clinical officers and nurses who serve 50,000 patients. During our surveillance visit in November, we learned that despite the lack of mobile phone signal, Dr Nshembe had diligently sent in his SMS stock count every week by radio to the District Medical Offices. He also had the best kept store rooms we had seen in our surveillance visits.
In Tanzania, many patients die from malaria because they discontinue the treatment once their condition starts to improve, often to save the last drug dose for a future attack. To help address the problem of patient compliance, Dr Nshembe runs weekly community meetings in which he explains the importance of completing the full three-day Coartem treatment course.
During our last surveillance visit in February 2010, Dr Nshembe who was struck by a malaria attack joined us on the exhausting journey to his health facility and lent us valuable support for our surveillance work.
Dr Nshembe has achieved the equivalent of a First Degree in Medicine in a long sequence of trainings and practical work. He recently specialized in gynecology and obstetrics and is looking forward to putting his skill to practice once the current extension of his medical center is completed. His long-term ambition is to obtain a Master's degree in Medicine.
Dr Nshembe sees the 'SMS for Life' project as an important element in Tanzania's efforts to prevent unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by malaria and malaria-induced anemia.
He and many other dedicated people in Tanzania will continue to use the 'SMS for Life' system throughout the country to play a crucial role in the elimination of malaria in the country and the continent.