July 9, 2013

Health Ministry Scoops ADB Award On eHealth

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has recognized the Ministry of Health of Uganda for its mTrac initiative describing it as one of the top ten eHealth projects of 2013.

Health Minister Ruhakana Rugunda
Health Minister Ruhakana Rugunda

The first AfDB eHealth award aims to encourage the production and sharing of knowledge on eHealth solutions.

mTrac is a RapidSMS-based health tool designed to strengthen health systems in Uganda. It was launched in December 2011 to improve Health Management Information System (HMIS) reporting on disease surveillance and medicine tracking systems in all 5,000 health facilities in Uganda. The system also aims to speed up response time and bolstering health sector accountability.

Led by the Ministry of Health, mTrac is a joint initiative supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) with funding from UKAID. It is implemented through a variety of partners including the Medicines and Health Services Delivery Monitoring Unit, National Medical Stores, Malaria Consortium and the Stop Malaria Programme.

Health Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda says in a joint statement that mTrac addresses a crucial need of the Ministry of Health, ensuring that accurate, real-time information from every health facility is available to national and local government stakeholders for action.

The minister says there is always a notable improvement in the health sector performance when this information is acted upon in a timely manner.

Health workers submit their routine weekly HMIS reports via a set of coded SMS messages that include notifiable diseases and stocks of key medicines. District Health Officers receive automated SMS alerts if pre-specified thresholds are surpassed, and the data is immediately assessable through the national DHIS2 system.

This is complemented by an anonymous health service delivery complaints hotline, through which people can report on the quality of services they are receiving in their communities.

mTrac is operational in over three-quarters (75 percent) of health facilities, with national coverage expected by the end of the 2013/2014 financial year.

mTrac data is currently being published regularly by the Health Ministry’s Epidemiological Surveillance Department, while the Pharmaceutical Unit now tracks consumption of ACTs at every health facility. Data derived directly from mTrac shows that health facilities without stock-outs of anti-malarial medicines have increased from 74.8 percent at the start of the initiative to 88.1 percent today, providing improving access to essential medicines for over four million people.

According to the Ministry of health, at least 5,472 actionable reports were received via mTrac’s anonymous hotline in 2012, of which 3,234 high priority cases were forwarded to the Medicines and Health Services Delivery Monitoring Unit for investigation. Nearly 70 percent of these cases were successfully resolved, and the Ministry is now exploring new ways to strengthen the national health system using mTrac.

Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator in Uganda is quoted in the statement as saying mTrac is proving instrumental to multiple UN agencies by providing timely information on critical bottlenecks within the health system, allowing for course correction during programme implementation.

In April 2013, the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization (UNEPI) used mTrac to conduct a rapid survey to identify bottlenecks in the vaccine supply chain. Over 16,000 health workers in the mTrac database were polled, and within 48 hours. At a cost of approximately 150 US dollars, UNEPI received detailed information from over 1,600 health facilities and identified 194 health facilities, including those at the Health Centre IV and Hospital levels, with non-functional fridges due to gas stock-outs or mechanical failures. The information included unit names and phone numbers to facilitate immediate follow-up by UNEPI.

mTrac is now being recognized internationally for real time monitoring of diseases, tracking of essential medicines, and improving health service delivery.

Other AfDB award winners include Health Information Systems Programme’s DHIS2 and Grameen Foundations’ MoTECH. The awards will be presented in Tunisia in September, later this year.

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