African Health Ministers Commit to eHealth

Last month, a number of African health ministers recommitted to making more investments in the health sector, building greater health research capacity, accelerating the response to noncommunicable diseases, and employing eHealth technologies to improve the efficiency, quality, and use of health services, among other things. These commitments were made in the form of eight resolutions that resulted from the 54th Conference of the East, Central, and Southern African (ECSA) Health Ministers. The conference was sponsored by the East, Central, and Southern African Health Community (ECSA-HC).

data entrants in BotswanaOne of the resolutions focuses on the innovative use of health information technologies and systems and is particularly relevant for CapacityPlus. CapacityPlus strengthens human resources information systems (HRIS) and develops and supports the iHRIS Suite of open source software that supplies health leaders with information to track, manage, and plan the health workforce. Six countries in the region are implementing the iHRIS software. CapacityPlus directly supports iHRIS customization, implementation, and/or data quality and use in three of these countries: Botswana, Rwanda, and Uganda. The iHRIS software is being implemented in the other three ECSA countries (Kenya, Tanzania, and Lesotho) by other USAID projects and independent country efforts.

The new resolution urges member countries to use eHealth technologies to improve health services and to apply evidence-based solutions to better meet health workforce requirements. The resolution also directs the ECSA-HC Secretariat to work with member countries to establish and support a regional network of HRIS experts and practitioners, key to ensuring long-term country ownership, leadership, and sustainability of the iHRIS software in the region.

CapacityPlus contributed to the conference in several ways, including working with country projects in the region to share their experiences with HRIS strengthening and iHRIS implementation. CapacityPlus’s Dykki Settle collaborated with Pamela McQuide of Namibia HIV Prevention, Care, and Support Program to organize a plenary panel discussion called “Tools and systems for better health workforce information.” The panel was envisioned by Sheillah Matinhure of ECSA-HC, and engaged a number of experts in discussing country application of the iHRIS software and the role regional organizations such as ECSA-HC can play to ensure its sustainability. Panelists included Matinhure and McQuide, as well as Bakari Bakari of Tanzania Human Resource Project, Kayode Odusote, consultant for CapacityPlus and a pioneer of HRIS strengthening in West Africa, and Vincent Oketcho of Uganda Capacity Program.

In parallel sessions, representatives from various projects highlighted the use of health workforce information to improve the health workforce. Mwangi Kabiru of Capacity Kenya shared an update on how Kenya’s two ministries of health are using a customized version of iHRIS Manage to track 39,000 health professionals in over 7,000 public health facilities. The system sends information to the Ministry of Finance’s payroll system and the country’s health management information system and is able to produce reports that compare the number of health workers per facility with the number of health services provided. Kabiru reported that Kenya’s iHRIS data are used to budget and plan for health workers. Grace Namaganda of Uganda Capacity Program discussed Uganda’s efforts to improve service coverage and delivery using iHRIS data and the World Health Organization’s workload indicators of staffing need. She also shared that Uganda’s iHRIS data have been used to advocate for the recruitment of more health workers. Odusote shared best practices from CapacityPlus’s work with the West African Health Organization to implement iHRIS in West Africa using a regional approach. Vincent Oketcho presented information on the recent collaboration between CapacityPlus and the Uganda Capacity Program to conduct a Rapid Discrete Choice Experiment, which identified the most effective packages of interventions to attract and retain health workers in Uganda’s remote and rural areas.

CapacityPlus will continue to support ECSA-HC's regional leadership, as well as collaboration between countries in the region that are strengthening HRIS and implementing iHRIS, to establish a network of HRIS expertise. Experts in the region are already beginning to respond to the resolution by transcending the borders of their own countries and creating a greater regional community of practice around HRIS. By supporting and championing these efforts, CapacityPlus can help ensure the sustainability of HRIS strengthening and the iHRIS software well beyond the life of the project.

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 Photo by Carl Leitner (data entrants in Botswana).