Saving lives with one click on the phone
Mbutu, Temeke, Dar-es-Salaam, TANZANIA
A goat is passing by - bleaking - on the sunburnt plain outside the brick building that houses the clinic Mbutu dispensary. The manager Scholastica J. Munishi pulls out her Nokia cell phone. The experienced health worker sits down with some notes in her lap and starts typing statistical health information from her district concerning people diagnosed with malaria, tuberculosis, animal bites and how many pregnant women that have been to check-ups.
- It's very easy, smiles Munishi, doing this task once a week.
Easy and important data
Mbutu dispensary is located in the rural Kigamboni area south of Dar-es-Salaam, and it covers approximately 5000 inhabitants.
Munishi is one of the country's several thousand health workers who feed data into the health data system DHIS2, developed by researchers at the University of Oslo over the last 20 years.
Like many other African countries, Tanzania has implemented the DHIS2 throughout the country - across all health programs.
One of the many advantages with DHIS2 is that you can send health data even from places with no fixed-network telephony or Internet. Simple cell phone access is enough.
Mbutu dispensary is fully booked every day and has its own, small laboratory.
- Among other things we analyze urine specimen, and we have medication for the most common diseases, Musingi says, showing us a tray with malaria drugs.
Better mother/child health
The clinic also has a delivery room where a handful of new citizens are born each month.
At the same time as a delegation from the University of Oslo and the Tanzania government is visiting, Lalia Tido Mbuhda and her son Masha have come for a check-up and vaccination.
One little jab and then Masha is vaccinated against pneumococcus, a bacteria that can cause meningitis and other severe illnesses.
Infant and child mortality rates are high in a lot of African countries, and one way to address this is the vaccination programs.
This is where mobile data through DHIS2 has its value. Health data from Mbutu and other health clinics go via DHIS2 straight to Temeke Municipal Council, which is the region Mbutu belongs to.
DHIS 2 (District Health Information Software)(link is external)is a health information system based on open source code, mobile network and mobile devices.
Here the data are processed, and statistics and illustrations display the development of when, where and how many people suffer from different diseases.
Took action against cholera outburst
Last year there was a major breakout of cholera in parts of the Temeke area.
Through data collected via the DHIS2 on cell phones, they quickly got an overview of the situation, like which areas were most affected.
- That made it easy to act quickly. The patients got quicker follow-ups, and we could put together a team that targeted the actions. Thus we controlled the outburst and reduced the amount of injured people, says Dr. Lawrent A. Chipatta.
He is Emercency and Disaster Coordinator for HMIS (Health Management Information System) in the Temeke region.
Cholera can be fatal. And Chipatta points out that prompt treatment some times can mean the difference between life and death.
During the cholera outburst, 945 incidents were discovered in Temeke, of which 16 died. The numbers would probably have been higher without the effective use of health data supporting immediate response.
Chipatta is very pleased with DHIS2, especially how the system supports staf at all levels of the health system, from local health workers to national managers.
Better political solutions
Also in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children in Dar es Salaam they are convinced that DHIS2 helps them to provide better health services in the country.
Through the system, Claud J. Kumalija, head of the Health Management Information System in the Ministry, and the other IT workers have online access to health data from Temeke and other regions in Tanzania. They develop graphical visualizations and reports that are used in the political decision-making process.
- The data supports better decisions. Our president is very pleased with the data in the health service and has said that he would like the same quality also from other sectors, Kumalija smiles as he emphasizes that there are still things to do.
Even if DHIS2 is installed as a national system, the quality of use varies, but they are working to improve it.
Big data and a bumpy ride
At the same time the authorities have put their eyes on big data.
- We are having challenges with the huge amount of data we are collecting and need good systems to analyze it all, says Kumalija.
- What is the best part of DHIS2?
- That it's online and web based, we can solve it all on the Internet. We bypass long travels by car to pick up data. Earlier, before we got the DHIS2, we sometimes got a message from one unit about a computer malfunction. Driving 200 kilometers on bumpy and crammed roads to find that the computer mouse was unplugged, was poor utilization of our resources, Kumalija points out.
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