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Analytical summary - Health information, research, evidence and knowledge

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Evidence shows that access to the right information at the right time can often be the difference between life and death. UNICEF’s James Grant estimated that getting medical and health knowledge to those who need it and applying it, could have prevented 34 million deaths each year in the 1980s. This is because information is power.

With a vision to have a health information a system that will be comprehensive, efficient and effective in supporting the health sector and other relevant stakeholders in the delivery of health services by the year 2015, Swaziland has had a Health Information System (HIS) since 1978, and this HIS was initially based at the Central Statistical Office (CSO). From 1979 onwards, health information was collected, stored and analysed at the Ministry of Health (MOH). The process was then decentralized to the regional level in 1981. In 1985 the system was expanded to include specific components such as in-patient activity, out-patient activity, notification of selected communicable diseases and facility based information. Since then, a number of changes and improvements have been made towards realising a functional effective HIS that will provide timely and quality information to policy makers, planners, programme managers, service providers and the general public.

Health information in Swaziland includes information on population growth, births, marriages, mortality and morbidity, disease outbreaks, determinants of health (such as nutrition, environment, and socioeconomic status), access, coverage and quality of services, costs and expenditures, and equity. Various tools and data collection methods are available including vital registration and census systems, surveys (household, facility and regional), routine facility-based data collection systems, disease surveillance and research.

Major highlights include the development of the Health Information System Strategic Plan (HISSP) in 2010, as well as the development of the Health Information System Policy (HISP) in 2008, though the latter has not yet been endorsed by the country’s parliament. Both these documents are the backbone towards realizing a robust Health Management Information System (HMIS). Another major highlight was the improvement in ICT especially the connection of a wide area network from regional to national level. All these major highlights have been integral towards creating a condusive environment for the overall health information society. Strong linkages have been made between the National Health Sector Strategic Plan (NHSSP) and these two overarching documents forming the basis of the HIS in Swaziland. These linkages ensure that nothing is done outside or parallel to the overall health sector plan.

The government’s strong commitment together with the support from bilateral and multilateral agencies has also assisted towards ensuring availability of resources (human, financial, infrastructure) to realize improved HMIS. This would not have been possible without strong coordination efforts that the MoHSW has put in place to ensure effective management of partnerships and optimum use of resources.

Even though the MoSW has made some improvements in HIS, there are still pending challenges for strengthening. There is a major need for a cadre of trained staff, appropriate organisational structures and procedures, equipment and infrastructure, institutional arrangements, requisite funding and supportive planning and policy frameworks. The current HIS Policy framework seeks to address all these challenges to some extent.