New US $200 Million Program Aims To Help Countries Build Better Health Information Systems

A new US $200 million program, financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to strengthen health data systems in developing countries.

USAID is currently developing the scope of this project, including country participation, according to a spokesperson from global health NGO and partner on the project, Vital Strategies.

Strengthening health information systems is particularly important in the context of COVID-19. An effective pandemic response is dependent on pinpointing the communities where the virus is spreading, which can only be done with a fast-reacting health information system.

“All aspects of governments’ responses to COVID-19 should be informed by data, including decisions on tightening or loosening public health and social measures, performance of contact tracing, maintenance of essential health services and opening of schools,”José Luis Castro, president and CEO of Vital Strategies told Health Policy Watch.

“Health information systems can centralize this data and inform policymaking as close-to-real time as possible—both helping governments understand the pandemic’s true human scope and scale, and accelerating the implementation of lifesaving measures,” added Luis Castro.

A well-oiled health information system will also be able to inform decision makers about where the highest health inequities are.

“This is especially urgent given that the pandemic is not impacting all communities equally; Black and Latinx people in the US are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white residents, and this is a challenge surfacing globally as well. In every country, we need high fidelity and rapid data to detect and respond to these inequities, and ensure that public health decision-making is reaching our hardest hit communities,” said Luis Castro.

In many countries, health data collection is reliant on paper forms, which must then be reentered into digital health systems. But sometimes, different platforms are used for different disease areas, and health surveillance officers must manage data across a variety of platforms, as well as other responsibilities.

USAID’s Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) Program aims to build up and streamline health information infrastructure, as well as support training in using data for decision making at the sub-national and national level.

One of the first projects of its kind in USAID’s portfolio, the program will be led by public health firm JSI Research and Training Institute. in collaboration with Vital Strategies, research firm RTI International, and digital health NGO Jembi Health Systems. A consortium of leading public health academic centers in low and middle-income countries, GEMNet Health, is also a partner in the program.

Image Credits: David Snyder/CDC Foundation.

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