HARARE— The United States government has started a program to strengthen Zimbabwe’s health information management system. The program is meant to strengthen surveillance and reporting of disease outbreaks and epidemics.
Those are health personnel - who include doctors and nurses from Zimbabwe’s eastern region of Manicaland - clapping after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) handed over laptop computers and accessories. The computers will be used to store data about patients they treat in the region.
The donation is part of a $2.1 million annual grant Zimbabwe gets from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, to strengthen its health information management system.
Paula Morgan the deputy director of the CDC in Zimbabwe explains the importance of Zimbabwe’s health information management system:
“Although our contribution although health wise [is] across the board particularly disease detection and surveillance, its important to us to capture all of them, because we work with PEPFAR programs, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, we do concentrate on the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Morgan.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of the biggest problems Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government is grappling with. Although the United Nations says new HIV infection rates have dropped by 50 percent in Zimbabwe, the country still has 1.2 million people living with the virus.
As a result of bankruptcy, President Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe is failing to meet the Abuja Declarations which recommends that African governments allocate 15 percent of their budgets towards health.
So it is no surprise Ponesai Nyika, a director in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health, welcomed the CDC’s donation of computers.
“This donation is really important, has come at a time when we really need it because what has been happening is that at the local clinic they [staffers] have been using hard copies, which is a hard paper system," said Nyika. "They record their patients in registers and tally sheets; where they tally against the patient’s age, name and treatment that has been given.”
All that is now done with computers thanks to the CDC, added Nyika. Through funding from the PEPFAR program, a U.S. non-profit, Research Triangle International (RTI), is training Zimbabwe health workers for two weeks to ensure accurate data collection and analysis.
Henry Chidawanyika, who heads Research Triangle International in Zimbabwe, sums up the current health information system standards in this African country.
“[It] is very weak in terms of viability to deliver, mostly because we do not have enough personnel on the ground, we do not [have] enough equipment, issues of infrastructure, power, connectivity," said Chidawanyika. "Health information is a cornerstone of a delivery of a health system. If you do not know where you are, then you do not know where to go. ”
For a country like Zimbabwe, which is afflicted by many diseases and epidemics, a sound health information system enables it to monitor statistics of say HIV infected pregnant women and provide critical information on patients accessing antiretroviral therapy and TB treatment. Experts say it also means early diagnosis of diseases.