When Information Gives Power: an open data platform helps patients get medicine

28 Apr 2017

 Photo Credit: Daniel Sone, National Cancer Institute (NCI) Now, for the first time, patients in Rivne and Odessa oblasts can check the availability of medicines and medical supplies in two clicks on the E-Liky website, or through mobile applications. These solutions, successfully piloted by UNDP, oblast administrations and patients’ organizations in the two oblasts, can now be further rolled out in other oblasts.

Originally published in Ekonomichna Pravda on 27 April 2017

Olga is a 24-year-old Ukrainian mother from the Rivne Oblast. It was time for her child to get vaccinated, but you can imagine Olga’s disappointment when, at the hospital, she was told there were no vaccines in stock. But Olga did not want to give up. Back home, she started browsing the internet and found the eliky.in.ua website, with detailed information about medicine availability in public hospitals. The website showed that indeed vaccines were available in the hospital she had just visited. She called the Eliky hotline which confirmed that the information shown was correct, and that she had the right to ask for her child to be vaccinated at no cost. When Olga went back to the hospital armed with this information, the doctor had to admit that free vaccines were in stock, and Olga’s child finally got his vaccines.

Olga’s experience is the same as that of many other women and men in Ukraine, who are often denied opportunities to receive medical supplies for themselves and their children.  The main excuse they are provided is that the medicines are out of stock. Until recently, Ukrainian patients had no way to verify such information. Now, for the first time, patients in Rivne and Odessa oblasts can check the availability of medicines and medical supplies in two clicks on the E-Liky website, or through mobile applications. These solutions, successfully piloted by UNDP, oblast administrations and patients’ organizations in the two oblasts, can now be further rolled out in other oblasts.

Lack of information, absence of transparency, and high prices (often due to lack of competition), have been major sources of corruption in the Ukrainian healthcare system.  This results in excessive costs for patients who need to purchase necessary and lifesaving medicine. These costs may be prohibitive for a significant number of people. According to a “Patients of Ukraine” report, 43 percent of patients have to borrow money or sell goods or property to be treated.

Ukraine is now seeking to take measures to address such challenges. One of the key measures is fighting corruption in the procurement of medicines. The Government has entrusted international organizations with procuring medicines, which resulted in open tenders, more competition and better results both in terms of reach of patients and cost savings.  UNDP has been privileged to be one of the international agencies working closely with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine to procure lifesaving medications throughout the country.

In addition to E-liky, another effective way of responding to the needs of Ukrainian patients is by improving the Ministry of Health’s electronic stock management system. In partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ukrvaktsina state entity UNDP helped to develop this professional digital stock platform that was piloted in 13 hospitals in Dnipro oblast and Kyiv city. The software will help the Ministry of Health to monitor the distribution of drugs, plan and forecast state procurement, manage real online stock and analyze information on needs for medicine at regional level. This software ensures public access to the information and ongoing monitoring of medical stocks.

While corruption challenges persist in Ukraine, the country can be proud of its achievements concerning transparent procurement and open data platforms.  The digital platforms will help Olga and all Ukrainian patients to enjoy direct information and access to medicine, in ways unthinkable just two years ago. It is expected that similar platforms will be rolled out in all regions of the country. UNDP is looking forward to continuing to work together closely with the Ministry of Health, patients’ associations, business associations and other partners in supporting such reform efforts, improving national health procurement processes and curbing corruption.