Numbers, numbers, numbers

At our recent GHC Quarter 1 retreat, all current GHC fellows, alumni, and staff in Uganda got together for a panel discussion on Uganda’s health system. Mr. Obed Kabanda, the Executive Director of ACODEV, one of GHC’s partner organizations, gave an incredible speech on the status of the health system, how we are failing it, and how we can do better. Much of what he said had a great impact on me, but none more than this quote: “We collect numbers, numbers, numbers, and have nothing to show for them.”

As a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Infectious Diseases Institute, my work revolves around numbers.  I record the numbers of health professionals we train, spend hours coming up with new ways to analyze data, and creating reports and presentations chronicling our progress. But what does it all mean? What are the results of this number-crunching? Does it actually help anyone?

Clearly I’m biased, but I would say yes. Numbers and data collection are incredibly important to making development and public health work, to knowing if we are being effective, and to spending money smartly.

But this holds true only if we decide to let them help us– if we use them as benchmarks, if we take analyzed data and go back and try to understand what they mean and how they can help us improve. That is one of my goals this year as a GHC fellow, to not only collect and analyze data, but make sure it is used.

As an example, my time in Uganda as a GHC fellow so far, by the numbers:

507: Number of trainees that IDI has taught since we began our work here. IDI provides training for doctors, nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, records staff, and other healthcare workers on infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. It is my and my co-fellow Robinson’s job to make sure these trainings happen as planned and evaluate how well they are implemented. In addition, we work to improve methods of tracking the long-term success of our programs and develop new ways to teach and evaluate trainees.

6: “Family dinners” held by the GHC fellows in Kampala, where we take turns hosting each other for food, conversation, films, etc.

3: Grant proposals that the IDI-GHC fellows have written so far, on topics from data management education to SMS reminders for vaccinations to mentoring programs for health workers. In addition to our usual M&E work, we get to help craft new projects, identify funding sources, and coordinate teams to write proposals.

5: Tracking sheets, work monitors, evaluation forms, and datasets that we have created or updated to help improve workflow within our department.

The IDI M&E team enjoying a half-day planning and strategy retreat

1-0: Final score at the Uganda-Zambia football match that GHC took by storm.