by Brendan Smith
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's extensive work on health issues in India was recognized in late July, when Bill Gates received the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development from Indian president Pratibha Patil at a ceremony in New Delhi. The award was given to recognize the $1 billion in commitments the foundation has made to India, mostly in the areas of HIV and polio prevention and treatment, but Gates spent most of his speech recognizing the health efforts of his hosts, including an ambitious health information system (HIS) launched last year.
Gates was particularly fulsome in his praise of the National Rural Health Mission, a body established by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to improve the delivery of health services to the over 700 million Indians who live in the country's 600,000 villages. Since its inception, the NRHM has initiated a number of programs aimed at improving the health and well-being of rural Indians, a demographic with some of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world and a stubbornly high incidence of maternal and child mortality. In addition to rolling out programs aimed at improving the health of women and children, the NRHM is also attempting to track the impact of these programs by deploying the Health Management Information System (HMIS), a massive web-based system that allows the entry of data closer to the point of service, which increases both the accuracy and timeliness of the data and improves officials' ability to spot and analyze health trends and allocate resources.
Across the developing world, a growing number of governments, international organizations, foundations and health care providers are pressing the case that in order to improve health workers' ability to deliver better care and to understand what's working, and not working, in the provision of health care, there is an immense need for better data on both baseline indicators and the outcomes of programs and interventions. Vital Wave Consulting recently produced a report for the Gates Foundation on the state of HIS throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, featuring full case studies of the Indian HMIS and HIS in Brazil and Zambia, in addition to an analysis of the critical success factors of such systems. The report will soon be released publicly on a new website devoted to furthering dialogue on HIS. Keep watching this blog for details on the website's launch.