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Countries gather in Lusaka for BID Learning Network meeting to strengthen digital and data capacity

By Masaina Bwakya, Change Management Lead, PATH

Mar 24, 2020

Posted in ,

Photo: PATH/Paul Nindi. BLN members met in Lusaka in March to share their experiences with digital and data solutions. As part of the meeting, BLN members visited facilities to see how health data is managed and visualized.

For Silemane Ouedraogo, an Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Data Manager in Burkina Faso, one of the most beneficial parts of the BID Learning Network (BLN) is the opportunity to learn from his peers about the digital health systems and technologies that have worked in their own countries. As countries figure out how to make use of limited resources for their health systems, this country engagement is irreplaceable.

“Sharing experiences is a mechanism to allow other countries to better achieve their [Expanded Programme on Immunization] targets.”

Earlier this month, the BID Learning Network (BLN) gathered in Lusaka, Zambia for a meeting including Silemane and other country representatives to discuss how digital and data solutions can be used to improve routine health data at a primary health care level. These meetings have proved a critical opportunity for countries to convene, share best practices, and pair up with other countries that may be further along in their digital journeys. Since its inception in 2014, the BLN has expanded its services to include health areas beyond immunization.

Between March 3 and 5, representatives gathered from Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, The Gambia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Participants discussed countries’ data quality improvement plans, talked about the progress they’ve made since a 2019 planning meeting, highlighted challenges, and shared successful approaches and important lessons learned.

A persistent challenge for many countries is figuring out how to pay for the often steep upfront costs of digital and data systems, particularly for countries transitioning off Gavi support for their immunization programs. As countries transition they must secure new domestic resources and strengthen their health sector’s financial management, planning, and budgeting capacity. They must also understand the systems and technologies available to them so they can make a well-informed decision about the solution that’s most appropriate for their health landscape. The BLN’s face-to-face meetings allow for a rare discussion forum with other like-minded countries. Countries build camaraderie, play to each other’s strengths, and learn from one another.

Burkina Faso, for example uses the Digital Health Information System 2 (DHIS2) Tracker for the collection of all of its health system data. But it also relies on other tools, such as Excel and the District Vaccine Data Management Tool, to simultaneously collect immunization data. Burkina Faso is in the process of choosing a solution that will allow for all of this health data to be collected using a single, integrated system. The country is interested in an electronic immunization registry but the project has been slow to take shape and has had difficulties allocating the right funds. Participating in the BLN meeting has provided an opportunity to learn from Tanzania and Zambia and other BLN countries about the importance of establishing scale-up and sustainability plans early in their digital journey.

For countries at varying stages of digital transformation, their takeaways from the BLN may be different, but the end result is the same—a chance to grow and learn from one another.

“In this data quality meeting, we encourage peer learning,” said Dr. Chilunga Puta, Director of the BLN, speaking at this month’s meeting. “It works on the premise that everyone has something to share and everyone has something to learn.”

Zimbabwe, for example, lacks a national guiding framework which has led to a crowded and disconnected digital health system. There is also confusion among government stakeholders about what systems should be rolled out and scaled in country, and what functions they serve.

“Zimbabwe is navigating the turbulence of uncoordinated multiple systems that are not communicating to each other even within the same institution,” explained Dr. Portia Manangazira, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control. “We have not yet achieved cruising, and are not sure of a safe landing just yet.”

Thanks to the BLN’s peer learning platform, Zimbabwe has learned from other countries about the importance of developing data quality improvement plans, digital health strategies, and digital systems that span multiple health areas, instead of just vertical, disconnected health information systems. Countries will take their lessons from this recent BLN meeting back to their own governments.

“It has been a collaborative session,” said Mike Nenani Chisema, Deputy Director of Preventive Health Services for Malawi’s EPI program. “It’s been full of insights calling for quality service delivery.”

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