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DRC delegates journey to Tanzania to learn about the benefits of digital innovation for closing the immunization gap

By Guy Bokongo Nkumu, Advocacy and Policy Manager, PATH and Lysette Kavira, Senior Program Assistant, PATH

Dec 11, 2018

Posted in

Photo: PATH/Trevor Snapp. Health workers consult patients at the Usa River Health Center in Tanzania.

This is the first blog in a series from a data learning trip to Tanzania for stakeholders from Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to learn about the Tanzania Immunization Registry (TImR).

In early September, PATH staff from Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), joined representatives from National Expanded Programs for Immunization (EPI), civil society representatives, and other government stakeholders for an enriching data learning trip in Tanzania. Facilitated by PATH, the learning trip was hosted by the Government of Tanzania through the Arusha Region, Ministry of Health staff, and PATH’s BID Initiative, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Throughout the trip, the team learned about the Tanzania Immunization Registry (TImR) through health facility visits, where participants were able to interact with health workers and witness the functionality of the system.

Photo: PATH/Emma Stewart. Health workers review immunization data in TImR.

Though Tanzania is a neighboring country, it took us more than 24 hours to get to Arusha, Tanzania from Kinshasa, DRC. It was the first time in Tanzania for our group of six, which included data managers from the EPI and civil society representatives from PATH, SANRU Asbl, and the Red Cross DRC. While this trip allowed us to see some of the beautiful mountains referenced in our primary school geography classes—including Kilimanjaro from the plane, and Meru from our hotel room windows—most importantly, it provided first-hand experience on the importance of digitalized immunization data.

Our first two days in Arusha were spent observing vaccination sessions in three health facilities in Longido and Meru districts. During these visits, we observed health workers using TImR and saw how access to real-time data leads to faster decision-making by EPI officers and managers.  Moreover, the registry allows the immunization status of children, once recorded, to be kept in the central server, and made available anywhere in the country where TImR is used for subsequent vaccination sessions.

Notable in this visit, was the active engagement of decision-makers in the BID Initiative, including both policymakers and health officials. Given the cost of implementation for a system like this, we were curious what led decision-makers to support and adhere to its use. BID stressed the importance of advocacy from the outset, to achieve buy-in from health and government officials.

The DRC’s Ministry of Health has already shown high interest in using technology to improve health information systems, as it has adopted the DHIS2 as a tool for data management for all health zones.  However, it’s being scaled up gradually, due to high costs for implementing these systems throughout the country. Many factors will need to be taken into consideration to resource and adapt an electronic immunization registry to meet the needs of the DRC’s more than 8,000 health facilities that offer vaccination services across 516 health zones/districts.

In today’s context, where there is a gradual decrease in aid, civil society has a significant role to play in the sensitization of country decision-makers to ensure more country-ownership and local funding for health and immunization activities. Back in DRC, we intend to develop a team of experts who will advocate for the introduction of such an electronic immunization registry, and meet over the next several months to come up with an advocacy plan.

Tanzania gave us hope that the use of information technology can help alleviate and resolve many issues that even 20-30 years ago seemed hard to deal with. One of the greatest benefits of technology is that it quickly connects us and brings us closer together. We’re confident that through advocacy, partnerships, and political will, we can overcome many of the immunization challenges the DRC currently faces.

 

Carla Toko (SANRU Asbl) and Justin SEBABI BAHATI (Red Cross DRC) contributed to this blog as members of civil society organizations working in immunization in the DRC to strengthen demand for immunization through the revitalization of grassroots community organizations.

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