African Health Ministers’ New Commitments Focus on eHealth

Last month, a number of African health ministers recommitted to making more investments in the health sector, building greater health research capacity, accelerating the response to noncommunicable diseases, and employing eHealth technologies to improve the efficiency, quality, and use of health services, among other things. These commitments were made in the form of eight resolutions that resulted from the 54th Conference of the East, Central, and Southern African (ECSA) Health Ministers.

One of the resolutions focused on the innovative use of health information technologies and systems is particularly relevant for IntraHealth International. IntraHealth works with six ECSA countries to gather and use health workforce information primarily through strengthening human resources information systems (HRIS) and implementing the iHRIS Suite, open source software that supplies health leaders with information to track, manage, and plan the health workforce.

The new conference resolution urges member countries to use eHealth technologies to improve health services and to apply evidence-based solutions to better meet workforce requirements. The resolution also directs the ECSA-HC Secretariat to work with member states to establish and support a regional network of HRIS experts and practitioners, key to ensuring long-term country ownership, leadership, and sustainability of IntraHealth’s work in the region.

A number of representatives from five IntraHealth projects contributed to the conference. Dykki Settle, who leads the eHealth/informatics team of CapacityPlus, IntraHealth’s global project, and Pamela McQuide, chief of party for Namibia HIV Prevention, Care, and Support Program, helped organize a plenary panel discussion called, “Tools and systems for better health workforce information.” The panel was envisioned by Sheillah Matinhure, manager for human resources for health and capacity building for the East, Central, and Southern African Health Community (ECSA-HC), and engaged a number of experts in discussing country application of the iHRIS software and the role regional organizations such as ECSA-HC can play to ensure its sustainability. Panelists included Matinhure and McQuide, as well as Bakari Bakari, HRIS specialist for the Tanzania Human Resource Project; Kayode Odusote, consultant for CapacityPlus and a pioneer of HRIS strengthening in West Africa; and Vincent Oketcho, chief of party for the Uganda Capacity Program.

IntraHealth staff also participated in parallel sessions focused on using information to improve the health workforce. Mwangi Kabiru, iHRIS officer for Capacity Kenya, shared an update on how Kenya’s two ministries of health are using a customized version of iHRIS Manage to track 39,000 health professionals in over 7,000 public health facilities. The system sends information to the Ministry of Finance’s payroll system and the country’s health management information system and is able to produce reports that compare the number of health workers per facility with the number of health services provided. Kabiru reported that Kenya’s iHRIS data are used to budget and plan for health workers. Grace Namaganda, human resources management senior advisor for Uganda Capacity Program, discussed Uganda’s efforts to improve service coverage and delivery using iHRIS data and the World Health Organization’s workload indicators of staffing needs. She also shared that Uganda’s iHRIS data have been used to advocate for the recruitment of more health workers. Odusote shared best practices from CapacityPlus’s work with the West African Health Organization to implement iHRIS in West Africa using a regional approach. Finally, Oketcho presented information on recent work by CapacityPlus and the Uganda Capacity Program to conduct a Rapid Discrete Choice Experiment, which identified the most effective packages of interventions to attract and retain health workers in Uganda’s remote and rural areas.