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Q&A with the BID Learning Network Director: Part 1

By Monica Graham, communications officer, BID Initiative

Aug 21, 2014

Posted in ,

The BID Initiative’s success will be driven by country engagement. We’re partnering with a core group of EPI and eHealth leaders from across Africa through a peer-learning mechanism called the BID Learning Network (BLN), designed to foster continuous learning and communication among countries committed to improving timely access to high-quality immunization data for informed decision making. The BLN will collectively help design, demonstrate, and discuss potential solutions; understand potential challenges; and provide continuous feedback on the BID Initiative’s overall direction.

As the BID Initiative rapidly expands its team to gear up for country implementation, we welcome Chilunga Puta who will serve as director of the BLN, based in Zambia. We recently sat down with Chilunga to learn more about her role and what she looks forward to as she steps into this critical position. Stay tuned for part two of her Q&A series where Chilunga will share her thoughts and insight around the importance of peer learning and how the BLN is critical to success.

1. What role will you be playing on the BID Initiative?

As director of the BLN, my role is primarily focused on providing leadership and management of BLN affairs to ensure our objectives are met. The network is bringing countries together and connecting them as peers to: identify shared problems and solutions; design common information system products, practices, and data policies; determine their applicability in-country; and take forward what works to national and global decision making.

Accomplishing these objectives will require appropriate organizational and governance structures and strategies for joint learning and communication, including managing and mobilizing resources for the network. It’s also critical that we set up appropriate communication channels to sustain continuous dialogue and so BLN members have timely access to important findings and lessons learned by member countries. Additionally, it will be my responsibility to ensure that strong collaborative links are forged with key global players in immunization such as the WHO. This portfolio will further include business development and advocacy activities in order to grow the BLN.

In addition to these duties, I will of course also be part of the overall BID leadership team and contribute to the growth and success of the initiative.

2. Prior to joining the BID team, what were you doing?

Before I joined the BID team I was working within PATH as Senior Technical Officer/Deputy on the MACEPA project, which is working with African countries to control and eliminate malaria. Specifically, I was responsible for documentation and training aspects as well as some management functions, deputizing for the MACEPA Director. Previously, I worked as Regional Infectious Diseases Advisor on the USAID/East Africa quality of healthcare project which involved setting up inter-country quality improvement collaboratives, mainly engaging East African countries with a focus on infectious diseases.

3. As you start your role as BLN Director, what are you most excited about?

I have a passion for quality of healthcare and the improved quality of life that emanates from that. I’m very excited about helping create a viable platform for countries with common challenges to work on improving the effectiveness of information systems for immunization programs and ultimately contribute to quality of life. Data is at the core of decision making and the decision made is as good as the data that it’s based on. Poor quality data translates into inappropriate decisions and can lead to inapt delivery of immunization services. Consequently, this can increase occurrences in preventable morbidity and mortality. I strongly believe that if we can support countries in developing an information system design that can deliver timely, high-quality immunization data that health care providers at all levels can use to make evidence-based decisions, the benefits will go beyond immunization programs and spill over to general health care delivery. My hope is that the efforts of the BID Initiative and BLN will eventually result in better healthcare service delivery, improved quality of life, and ultimately an improved social-economic disposition of affected countries.

4. What aspects of your role might be challenging?

In the words of Aristotle: “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”  

I’m starting this “journey” with an open mind because in many ways it’s a launch into the unknown. Improving a healthcare system component in generally weak healthcare systems will not be an easy task. There are many factors that aren’t under our control. These include, but aren’t limited to: data management and use cultures of participating countries; varying political will or capacity to support and enforce change; varying infrastructure availability to support an efficient health information system; and unpredictable national ability to sustain changes beyond the initiative lifespan. All these are potential challenges for us.

5. What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I have a reputation for being a workaholic and a bookworm among those people who know me (at least so they think!). As a result, people are usually surprised when they discover that what I actually enjoy most is just planting and growing things. I love the sight of fresh green growth so in my alternate life (when I’m not working or reading) I do farming as a hobby.

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