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Social Enterprise Aimed at Improving Healthcare in Developing Countries

By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online

Reliefwatch, a ‘for-profit’ social enterprise developed by a finalist in the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, Daniel Yu, aims at providing developing nations with an essential cloud tool, to track medical supplies and outbreaks of infectious diseases.

“Our vision is to have a technology that affects billions of people across the developing world through the organisations that provide the essential supplies that they need,” states Yu, the developer of Reliefwatch.

The tool uses mobile voice and short message service (SMS); especially designed for developing countries, like Papua New Guinea, where healthcare is extremely challenging.

“Health care delivery is an issue everywhere, but it’s particularly challenging in the developing world. Expired medicines, broken equipment, unreliable electricity, and a lack of even the most basic supplies are everyday issues for medical practitioners,” he added.

In recognising that about 90 per cent of the population in developing nations use mobile phones, Reliefwatch has an integrated technology that allows health workers to record medical supplies in stock, or that they are in need of, simply by punching in the phone’s number pad according to the value of the supplies needed, or that available.

“The vast majority of health clinics in the developing world don’t have access to computers or the internet. As a result, they don’t have information systems in place to keep track of what they have,” said Yu.

“When the clinic runs out of a particular drug or medicine, the supplier doesn’t know about that. In the meantime, anyone who comes in and needs that particular medicine is essentially out of luck. It’s a big problem.”

According to Yu, medical workers health workers at Global Brigades clinics in Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua have successfully digitised more than nine million units of medical supplies and reduced various expirations by up to 90 per cent.

Reliefwatch supports up to 12 languages and can track inventory & diseases in over 180 countries; a program has been launched in Liberian health clinics to track medical supplies for Ebola, delivered through US aid.

Yu hopes to expand the reach of the social enterprise; and in doing so, include other sectors such as agriculture where inventory data on specific crops can also be made, such as banana, cocoa, coffee, wheat among others.

He is also optimistic about extending the use of Reliefwatch in disaster aid management and for food, citing that the enterprise has great potential in covering a range of sectors.

 “The data we’ve been able to gather in terms of what medicine is going where, what is being distributed, how often it’s being used in that particular community, that is exactly the type of information that organisations need to know.”

He adds that the process itself is simple, and can be adapted with ease in the developing world.

“A health clinic worker receives a call to their mobile phone on a prescheduled basis, say each day at 5pm. Reliefwatch’s interactive, automated voice response process allows the worker to record how many bottles of medicine they have or need, whether acetaminophen or antibiotics, by punching in the values on the phone’s number pad.

“The data is updated and stored on a cloud system, allowing support staff anywhere in the world to stay informed or files re-supply requests in time,” states Yu.

 A video on Reliefwatch can be viewed here

The Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards is an international awards programme delivered in partnership with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and in collaboration with Ashoka, that rewards inspirational entrepreneurs aged 30 and under who have developed a product, service or application that helps make sustainable living commonplace.


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