By Kathy Doherty, Senior Research Writer MEASURE Evaluation
Health data are essential to understanding what is working in a health system and what is not. Data alone, however, are just numbers, unless transformed into compelling information products that communicate and lead to action to improve health care.
For the past year MEASURE Evaluation—a $180 million program housed in the Carolina Population Center at UNC and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—has provided technical assistance to 14 health professionals from Zambia’s Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Council, the Ministry of Community Development, and the University of Zambia. They spent three weeks last fall in Chapel Hill working on data products, such as posters, data dashboards, and trend lines, and then flew home, certificates of achievement in their baggage and a vetted health communication product on their laptops.
Take, for instance, Boyd Kaliki, a provincial monitoring and evaluation (M&E) officer with the health ministry in Lusaka – Zambia’s capital. He supports programs to prevent HIV transmission and uses the country’s data software to generate visuals that illustrate what health data are saying. For this training, he focused on merging data sets to discover why only 37 percent of HIV-positive women of childbearing age are using modern contraceptives.
He compared women living with HIV, who do use contraceptives, with other data and discovered that HIV-positive women with more education were more likely to use contraceptives, and that rural women were less likely to use them. His analysis led to three conclusions:
- The government should offer HIV testing, counseling, and treatment along with family planning services and incentives in rural and urban areas.
- The government should improve health education so women living with HIV understand how to take precautions for their health during and after pregnancy.
- The government should help families keep their girls in school, because education correlates with contraceptive use and delayed childbearing.