In 2013, Kenya’s Ministry of Health was faced with a debate over the alarming rate of women dying in childbirth: was the cause deep-rooted cultural values, or could lives be saved with policy interventions?
To find the answer, the ministry turned to its health information system. The data clearly showed that more than a third of women were giving birth at home and that many of them weren’t accessing health facilities because of distance and financial costs. “We saw that there was a problem with access,” says Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the health ministry’s principal secretary, who is responsible for all health services in Kenya. “So we decided to remove the financial barrier.”
On June 1, 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared maternity services free in all public health facilities in Kenya. The impact is being analysed.
Dr. Muraguri cites this example to demonstrate the power of good data to inform policy decisions. Kenya has made significant investments in strengthening data collection tools such as household surveys, health management information systems and civil registration and vital statistics.
Still, gaps in the country’s health information system remain, notably in producing high-quality data and in effectively using and analyzing data to tackle priorities such as infectious diseases and rising rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. In addition, data systems developed by global health development partners that focus on single diseases sometimes operate in isolation instead of talking to each other and linking up with government-led efforts.
Harmonizing financial and technical resources
To help Kenya and other countries to integrate these health data systems into a unified, more efficient framework, global health partners including WHO have formed the Health Data Collaborative to harmonize their financial and technical resources and ensure they are in line with country priorities. Kenya is the first country in Africa to officially launch the Health Data Collaborative at country level.
“One of the reasons we are taking this approach is because we are focusing our efforts toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr Isabella Maina, head of the Health Sector Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) unit in Kenya’s health ministry. “We need a strong health information system and M&E program to track and guide our progress toward meeting those goals.”
The Health Data Collaborative is a partnership between WHO and other development agencies, countries, donors and academics. The Collaborative is aiming to engage with between 5 and 8 countries in 2016-17.
“WHO is proud of having joined with key partners and stakeholders to launch this initiative,” said Dr Nathan Bakyaita, Officer-in-charge of WHO’s country office in Kenya. “The strong collaboration and presence of our key partners at the meeting is testimony of our commitment to a harmonised approach to health sector M&E in Kenya.”