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Tanzania demands coordinated investments in health data

By Breese Arenth, Data Use Partnership lead, Digital Health Solutions

Dec 5, 2016

Posted in ,

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Riccardo Gangale. Nurse Olivia Mlemeta from the Usa River Health Center shares information with other nurses in the area about vaccine supplies and shortages using the WhatsApp messenger on her mobile phone near Arusha, Tanzania.

On 21 October, 2016, 80 government, donor, and NGO partners gathered in a conference room in Dodoma, Tanzania. The Deputy Minister of Health addressed the rapt audience, and told them of Tanzania’s bold aims to accelerate the transformation of Tanzania’s health system through the use of data to measure performance and improve service provision. He announced this as one of his three priorities while in office.

The meeting was convened by the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children and the President’s Office of Regional and Local Government. Representatives from health, monitoring and evaluation, and information technology divisions at both ministries presented a set of investment recommendations in data systems and data use designed to address key gaps to enable Tanzania to make better informed decisions in the health sector. The investment road map (see image below) was a product of a ten-month landscape analysis conducted by both ministries with a team of PATH staff, under the Data Use Partnership (DUP). The investment recommendations build on existing work, like the BID Initiative, to leverage and strengthen efforts rather than duplicate. The Deputy Minister of Health declared all new investments in data systems and data use must coordinate with the investment road map.

Image: PATH. Data Use Partnership Road Map (Click image for larger version).

Image: PATH. Data Use Partnership Road Map (Click image for larger version).

This was a powerful moment. Leaders of a comprehensive cross-section of public health sector stakeholders announced a strong stance: data use is a top priority and the government will drive where investments are made to ensure donor priorities align with government priorities.

Tanzania has built a culture of data collection, but the next step is building a culture of data use. Technology is now more accessible and affordable than ever in Tanzania, but fragmented data systems, causing inability to effectively access or share information, is one of the greatest impediments to unlocking the benefits information and communication technology can bring. An important cause of this problem is lack of coordination between those funding and developing those data systems, and lack of involvement of the users in the design, development, and deployment process.

This is what makes the BID Initiative and DUP distinct in important ways. They take the Principles for Digital Development to heart and incorporate them into the approach. End user participation is a right and an imperative, not a simply a means to achieve project objectives. PATH’s role is to ensure that happens, and to serve as a partner and advisor to empower the government to make informed decisions (rather than deciding for them).

Looking ahead, we are documenting lessons learned from our approach, and supporting the government to develop a concept note for funding to implement some of the investment recommendations.

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