Using technology to improve health systems is a large part of the Akros ethos. Since the inception of the Malaria Active Infection Detection (AID) program in 2011 in the Zambian district of Lusaka, several successes have been scored in the fight against the disease. Much of this involved the development of a system to locate areas of potential local transmission of malaria in the heart of the capital. This allowed for better targeting of interventions, and the system continues to be improved.
Recently, another innovation was introduced to the district, the use of Android-based tablets for data capture at clinics and during field responses. More than 30 health workers – mainly environmental health technicians and nurses from five government clinics within the Lusaka district – were selected to attend the electronic data training. The two-day training, organized by Akros in collaboration with the Zambia Ministry of Health, also drew representation from the National Malaria Control Center and the District Community Health Management Team.
The essence of the training was to familiarize the health workers with the use of the new technology. The training helped to introduce and refine this novel approach before it is rolled out to the rest of the clinics and potentially around the country. The tablets are meant to increase operational efficiency, allowing for easier and faster data collection and transmission as well as the piloting of a feedback mechanism for the clinics using a DHIS2 application installed on the device.
Previously, data collection was done using paper-based forms at the clinic and during field responses. These paper forms would then be kept at the clinic until a central team from the National Malaria Control Centre (NMCC) was ready to collect them, usually on a monthly basis. They would then begin the tedious task of entering stacks of paper forms into an Access database that often took weeks and months before data was ready to be shared with stakeholders. With the introduction of the tablets, data collection and transmission is almost instantaneous and sent to a cloud server allowing for immediate monitoring of data on a real-time basis.
With several programs having come and gone over the years in Lusaka, several clinic staff members often complained of not having received much, if any, feedback from reports they had been sending. The AID program has had this challenge for a number of years and with the introduction of these tablets, a new DHIS2 application is being piloted to overcome this. The application is linked to each clinic’s DHIS2 account and dashboards have been developed that allow the clinics to immediately monitor their clinic data from the malaria rapid reporting system, the Ministry of Health’s Health Management Information System (HMIS) as well as the AID system. Thus, feedback can be given to the clinics quickly and easily. This, as many past programs have shown, will likely have a positive impact on the quality of the data in each clinic.
Malaria is one of Zambia’s major health problems claiming almost 8,000 lives every year. Taking its greatest toll on children under the age of 5 and pregnant women, Malaria accounts for 50% of under-5 hospital admissions and 20% of maternal deaths. Combating Malaria requires consented effort from various stakeholders. The introduction of Android tablets to the scene in the fight against Malaria in Lusaka is just another example of how technology can help make extraordinary improvements in the lives of Zambia’s citizens.
Akros is an organization committed to strengthening national health systems in developing countries. They are based in Lusaka, Zambia, and the United States.
Maswabi Precious Matantilo is currently serving with Akros as a 2014-2015 GHC Fellow.