Data Uptake Series: Zambia 2022

Members of the Countdown collaboration team at a dissemination event in June 2022.

“We say, numbers don't lie,” reflected Charles Michelo, professor at the University of Zambia during a June 2022 dissemination event. “Yet numbers can be hidden. In hospitals, see how many files may be on the floor, inaccessible. This also may be true in our offices: we have the data, and we need to learn from it, use it.”

Similarly, Brivine Sikapande of the Ministry of Health said, “The culture in the country is mostly to collect this huge amount of data but when it comes to using that data, there is very little or no use of it.” Sikapande has been working on the Countdown collaboration since 2019 and she said has seen progress toward more data use. “Through our products we have been able to stimulate a lot of interest from partners, as well as within the Ministry of Health, to be able to use the data to inform programming,” she said.

Strengthened capacity for data analysis within Ministry of Health and other collaboration partners has led to the development of several country-level communications products and participation in cross-country analysis projects, such as the COVID-19 analysis and the urban health study and health facility data analysis.  The Countdown collaboration prepared a midterm review of the National Health Strategic Plan (NHSP) 2017-2021. This analysis also included a color-coded executive summary comparing progress to targets. This report was also used to develop the new NHSP. A subsequent report focused on equity in reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health (RMNCH).

 

In June 2022, more than 60 people attended a meeting about progress toward equity in RMNCH, health policy and systems analysis, and COVID-19’s impact on RMNCH services.  Hosted by Countdown, attendees were from the Ministry of Health, the Zambia Statistics Agency, several United Nations organizations, the country’s largest teaching hospital, international nonprofit organizations, the United States Agency for International Development and the University of Zambia.

The annual data review meetings have shown encouraging progress and also identified gaps that still need to be addressed, noted Patricia Bobo, acting director public health and research at the Ministry of Health during the June 2022 event. “Reviewing data is important because otherwise we may do things just because we did them in the past, without thinking about what impact is being achieved.”

The Countdown collaboration has also helped reduce duplication of efforts between the Ministry of Health and the university researchers. “Ultimately, all the research we are doing should be able to improve how we are doing our service delivery and how we actually program to achieve improved outcomes,” Sikapande said “We have seen that as we partner, as we collaborate, we are able to reduce duplication of efforts because we are all working towards a common goal.”

“This collaboration, particularly in-country between the Ministry of Health and the university, has been strengthened through capacity building in analytical and knowledge translation skills and increased data sharing demand,” said Choolwe Jacobs, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia. Although Zambia’s DHIS platform includes extensive information, previously Countdown collaboration partners at the University of Zambia had little access to the data. Through the Countdown collaboration, their use of the data has increased, and graduate students are able to access the data for their practicums and dissertations.

For example, in April 2022 findings from analysis of health facility and Demographic Health Survey data conducted by the Countdown collaboration were shared in an event at the University of Zambia’s School of Public Health. The event included oral presentations followed by open discussion. This was the first event of its type at the School of Public Health, and it motivated university leadership to start having similar research presentations every month.

As we plan to move forward, I would emphasize the need for collaboration, collaboration, collaboration,” said Dr. Hikabasa Halwiindi, dean of the University of Zambia’s School of Public Health. “If you want to go first, go alone; if you want to go far, you need others.”