Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
The health information system DHIS2, developed at the University of Oslo, Norway, is spreading like wildfire and is becoming a de facto standard throughout Africa and Asia.
Local health data are reported by cell phones from all over Tanzania, particularly from places where the mobile network is the only reliable modern communication technology.
The health information the local health workers provide through their phone or laptop, is sent straight to the regional and national authorities, who quickly get an overview of the situation.
Developing in more directions
In several of the more than 6o countries that have implemented DHIS2, creativity is growing – the system is developing in different directions.
One example is the graphic tool Scorecard, which is implemented in several countries in East and central Africa, for instance Tanzania.
Just like at a traffic light, the colours red, yellow and green are used to give a quick overview of whether the country’s regions have reached their goals in different areas. This can be used to direct resources where they are most needed as well as to identify the top performing regions so that the other regions can learn from them.
The Ministry of Health in Tanzania has, in collaboration with others, developed their own Scorecard version aimed at mother-and-child health.
Developed health app
Now researchers at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) have developed a Scorecard App in cooperation with health authorities, University of Oslo and HISP Uganda. It was recently placed in the global DHIS2 App Store.
UNICEF and a number of countries in Africa and Asia want to implement it, and plans are being made to make it accessible in all countries.
In Tanzania the Norwegian based health information system DHIS2 contributes to innovative companies being created, and researchers at the USDM can also see that the DHIS2 will work in a number of other fields due to its flexible and generic nature.
DHIS2 has become a large project at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the university. 14 researchers are now working with implementation and further development of the Norwegian based system.
– It is a popular system that attracts a lot of our greatest talents, says CSE-leader Dr. Honest C. Kimaro, pointing out that they work on a lot of different projects in close collaboration with the authorities in the country and UiO.
One group is looking into using the technology to improve road safety. They have developed an iRoad App. Through this, data about accidents and other traffic incidents can be reported directly through cell phones. In addition to facts about the incident itself, data about the people involved, witnesses and so on are put there.
Low-grade roads, a lot of traffic and speedy driving are conductive to the high amount of accidents in Tanzania. The information that is gathered can give the authorities better knowledge and a better overview of the traffic. Where are the accidents happening, what causes them, which people are involved?
This makes it possible to take actions to improve road safety.
Overview of water reserves
Clean water is lacking in lots of places in African countries. Using computer technology to monitor the reserves at all times will be quite useful for the authorities.
The researchers are working with the authorities to see if the DHIS2 technology can be developed further to accomplish this, for instance local reports on the water level and water sources being reported to regional and central authorities through mobile devices.
Even the agricultural sector is put on the agenda by the researchers.
Overwhelmed project manager
HISP’s project manager, professor Kristin Braa, says that UiO has had a close collaboration with the university in Dar es Salaam for years.
– It works very well. Tanzania is among the countries that have best implemented the technology and been most innovative. What they accomplish, is impressing.
Braa points out that the DHIS2 countries learn from each other and are inspired by countries like Tanzania.
– It’s great to see that the flexible DHIS2 technology can be developed further and come into use in a lot of different sectors and thus contributes to better grounds for decision making, she says.
CSE-leader Dr. Honest C. Kimaro is also very satisfied with the DHIS2 technology and the cooperation with UiO.
He is especially pleased that the system is based on open source code and thus is supplier independent and flexible for the user to change. He pinpoints the vulnerability in choosing proprietary software from commercial companies.
– Windows/Microsoft might disappear, maybe even the data. But in DHIS2 the authorities have control of the local data and statistics. And authorities will always be there, they don’t go away.
Collaboration across countries
In addition to developing the DHIS2 for their own country, the researchers from Tanzania also support other African countries in different ways. First and foremost this includes Zanzibar, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Rwanda.