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Greetings from Kampala, Uganda!

March 20, 2010

Tuesday, March 16th (Posted on the 20th due to lack of connectivity)

Greetings from Kampala, Uganda!

After a series of weather-related delays and an unexpected detour through Kenya, our research team arrived in Uganda today a day a half late and eager to begin work. Despite a bit of jetlag, our team hit the ground running upon arrival and conducted two very fruitful interviews with coordinators of local projects.

The first interview was based on an innovative program here in Uganda to forecast droughts and drought-related challenges. While not currently utilizing new technologies (though this is being considered for future iterations), this program is especially relevant to our research project in that it has focused on coordinating new methods of surveillance and data collection with existing local, district and national efforts.  The program has experienced a number of successes and has also identified a number of areas to consider when scaling up this and similar programs. These include:

  • Seeking a balance between a large number of indicators requested by various partners and a realistic number of indicators that can be assessed in an accurate, timely fashion
  • Developing effective systems to monitor and verify data streams in coordination with relevant government agencies
  • Recruiting and/or electing local and district-level representatives and training them in a quick, cost-effect manner
  • Following up initial trainings with periodic “refresher trainings” or “sharing experience workshops”
  • Utilizing paid officials, such as parish chiefs, in an effort to avoid the need for providing significant monetary incentives (other than lunch allowances, etc.)

Our group was happy to learn that this program has been picking up momentum and has secured an impressive level of government buy-in at all levels. We look forward to learning about its progress and whether technology solutions will be included, as is being considered.

Our second meeting was with an organization with a very different focus but was also quite fruitful. This organization is currently utilizing an SMS based system to monitor a variety of health indicators in two regions of Uganda. The system allows data currently being collected by Health Centers in these regions to be communicated via a series of SMS messages. Indicators being tracked include data that has been tracked since 1997 on paper forms, such as numbers of cases and deaths caused by various epidemic diseases (dysentery, malaria, rabies, cholera, etc.). New indicators that have been added to this SMS-based project deal specifically with confirmations of malaria cases, treatments of malaria cases and drug stock data. This information is then presented in map format via the internet. Participants at higher levels in the system (district officials, not village health teams) can view pertinent information online using passwords provide to them.

Information learned at this meeting that is especially relevant to our research includes:

  • Considering various methods information may be verified as it travels upward
  • Proactively addressing the possibility of catastrophic failures, such as cell outages and power failures in designing a technology-based system
  • Being aware of the importance of appropriate, though simple, feedback to those entering the data via SMS
  • The possibility of creating a mapping system (perhaps using GIS) with universal location tags which various NGO and government entities could possibly use collaboratively
  • The implications of creating a toll-free SMS number (using reverse billing) for participants

After this two meeting, we really look forward to travelling to Gulu tomorrow to learn about this project’s on-the-ground methods of data collection and transmission.  That and a good night’s sleep…

-Mark (Uganda Team)

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