Data only hold power if someone is using them to take action!

31st October 2016

by Beth Yeager

Maternal and Child Health Director, USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program, Procurement and Supply Management

At the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition annual membership meeting last week in Seattle, Ellen Starbird of USAID moderated a panel on the data Ethiopia is generating on reproductive health supplies. Dr. Desalegn Tigabu, from the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia, Scott Radloff of PMA2020, Endale Workalemahu Tilahun of FPWatch/PSI and Paul Dowling of JSI/Ethiopia all gave presentations on the data collection and visualization efforts their organizations are supporting.  From the various platforms described that include national values for global indicators, information on availability of key medicines and supplies at various levels of the public health system and even data on availability in the private sector, Ethiopia now benefits from a more comprehensive perspective of availability of key reproductive health supplies, including maternal health medicines. 

Establishing these platforms was no small feat, but now comes the even harder task faced by many countries like Ethiopia that are moving towards great data availability and visibility – how to get people to use them in their daily jobs.  The global community recognizes that better data are needed to reach FP2020 goals, and ultimately the targets set forth for maternal, newborn and child health under the recent Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries are rolling out, or strengthening, their health management information and logistics management information systems, or even attempting to make the two interoperable.  The great challenge moving forward will be how to empower managers and local decision makers who have access to these data to take the necessary actions to address understock, overstock or stockouts, or other issues related to availability and even use.

Over the course of the meeting, other panels included presentations on creative strategies that countries are employing to increase use of data for decision-making. In Myanmar, for example, district quality improvement teams reviewed data from the logistics management information system, identified problems and developed improvement plans to address them. Instead of resource-intense strategies such as training workshops, that are often one-off and of limited impact, more hands-on, in-service strategies need to be explored so that staff understand why the data they collect are important and how they can be used to make a difference.

Yes, data do hold tremendous power, but only in the hands of people who understand how to use them to increase access to quality reproductive supplies.

Categories: Opinion, Power of Partnership