The Routine Health Information Network (RHINO) organized a session on Strengthening Routine Health Information Systems (RHIS) through Regional Networks on Monday, November 14 at the 2016 Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR) in Vancouver. RHINO is an NGO established under the USAID-funded MEASURE Evaluation project in 2001 to advocate for strong RHIS.
In June of last year, USAID, WHO, and the World Bank organized the “Measurement and Accountability for Health Post 2015 Summit” in Washington DC. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss monitoring and evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Presentations at the Summit showed the current generalized weakness of RHIS in low and middle income countries, making it very difficult to monitor with real-time data health system performance, health service delivery performance, and global initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the priorities from the Call for Action was …”to improve health facility and community information systems including disease surveillance and financial and health workforce accounts, empowering decision makers at all levels with real-time access to information.”
At HSR, which gathered more than 2,000 public health researchers and practitioners, RHINO took the opportunity to discuss how RHIS advocacy and knowledge management efforts can be decentralized, by setting up regional networks of countries to promote best practices and lessons learned to increase the performance of RHIS in the member countries.
The RHINO session was attended by around 60 participants. Dr. Theo Lippeveld, President of RHINO, welcomed the audience to the fifth International Meeting of RHINO. Eduardo Celades from WHO/Geneva, was the keynote speaker. He presented the Health Data Collaborative, which was set up after the MA4Health Summit to ensure coordination of the various HIS strengthening efforts. A panel of four experts presented their regional network experiences from Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
- Juan Eugenio Hernandez from the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (INSP – Mexico) presented the seven-year experience of the “Red Latino-americana y Caribeña para el Fortalecimiento de los Sistemas de Información en Salud” (RELACSIS), which has more than 4,500 members.
- Sanjay Zodpey from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) presented on the establishment of a RHIS strengthening focus group under the Asia eHealth Information Network (AeHIN).
- Issaka Sombie from the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) gave an overview of various networking activities, during which West African country representatives shared best practices and lessons learned. WAHO intends to create a formal RHIS strengthening network for West Africa.
- Vincent Shaw from the Health Information System Program (HISP/South Africa) presented plans for the creation of a RHIS strengthening network for Southern African countries, eventually under the umbrella of an existing network, such as HISP network.
This was followed by group work, where regional groups discussed potential innovative mechanisms for setting up new regional RHIS strengthening networks; sharing best practices on improving RHIS performance; and institutionalizing these networks to advocate for strong country RHIS.
In his summary remarks, Dr. Lippeveld called for further development of regional RHIS strengthening networks because of their great potential to create opportunities for South-South sharing of best practices and lessons learned. Based on the recent experiences presented at the satellite session, the main challenge is to create sustainable mechanisms for functional networks. The RELACSIS network experience showed the need for country participation through a core group of country representatives with strong RHIS backgrounds. Another challenge is to document the results of such networks, because of the methodological difficulties in measuring outcomes, such as health system strengthening as attributes of well-functioning health information systems.
The session ended with a reception that exhibited recently developed RHIS assessment and strengthening tools, such as the RHIS Rapid Assessment Tool, PRISM tools, Data Quality Review tool, and RHIS standardized curriculum. During the week, additional networking meetings took place with representatives from the AeHIN RHIS focus group, WAHO, as well as HISP South Africa to discuss next steps.