Access to medicines and health supplies is particularly challenging in the developing world. In rural areas, clinics and pharmacies often have to deal with expired medicines, unreliable electricity, and lack of basic supplies and equipment. Larger hospitals may get regular shipments of supplies, but even then, supply chains are not effectively managed and badly needed items often expire or run out.
Daniel Yu, a student from Chicago University, first became aware of this problem while travelling in Egypt. Yu immediately recognized that these rural clinics needed a dependable inventory system and set out to create one that would work even in the world’s most remote areas.
In 2012, Yu created a social enterprise called Reliefwatch. It recognizes that many of the world’s most remote clinics do not have computers, internet, or smartphones, but over 90% of people in the developing world own a basic ‘dumb phone’. Reliefwatch created a platform in which an organization simply registers their clinics, and health workers at those clinics will receive an automated voice call twice per week on their own phones.
The voice asks how many of each drug the clinic has in stock, and the worker types the number into the phone’s keypad. The data is stored on a cloud system and support staff anywhere in the world can stay informed and request a resupply when needed. No extra hardware, downloads, or training are needed. Reliefwatch also aggregates the data across clinics and regions to provide overall metrics to important stakeholders. The company is currently charging clinics around $100-$200 per month for their services.
So far, Reliefwatch has partnered with Global Brigades to help reduce medicine expirations by 90% in health clinics in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ghana. They have also partnered with Heart to Heart International to track the spread of Ebola and treatment supplies in Liberia. More recently, they teamed up with Samaritan’s Purse to distribute 60 tons of aid to 15,000 families after the earthquake in Nepal.
Basic Technology, Essential Supplies
Reliefwatch is particularly well-suited for disaster scenarios because it doesn’t require any hardware set-up and can begin tracking supplies in minutes. Earlier this year, Yu won the Prince of Wales Young Sustainability Entrepreneurs Prize and in October he will compete for Forbes’ Under 30 $1M Change the World Competition. While Reliefwatch receives accolades, it is also focusing on expanding to work directly with government ministries and to work in more countries in Africa, South America, and Asia.
Reliefwatch’s vision is to use basic technology to provide essential supplies to people who need them in the developing world. They believe that increasing access to medicine and care will improve quality of life and help people to live healthier and happier lives.
John Flavin, a member of the UChicago Innovation Fund that recently provided Reliefwatch with $100,000 investment funding, puts it this way: “Reliefwatch is solving an unmet need with its platform and they’re doing it in a unique and effective way.” As Reliefwatch continues to seek out new funding and new partnerships, it hopes to attain its goal of using technology to help billions of people across the developing world.