Kenya's Strategic Plan for Health Information Systems

Kenya has a brand new Strategic Plan for Health Information Systems (HIS) covering the period 2009 to 2014. The new strategic plan also brings along a HIS policy to guide its implementation. The two documents attempt to deliberately address the aspirations of the National Health Strategic Plan II , the Health Sector Monitoring and Evaluation Framework and the country's Vision 2030. The documents were prepared with the technical and financial support from the Health Metrics Network (HMN) and UK's Department for International Development (DfID). Click here to access the two documents on Google Docs

Notably, among government dependent services, the health sector has been at the fore front adopting Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for improved service delivery to Kenyans. The progressiveness on the part of the health sector may be appreciated as a result of good leadership within the government. The same might also be dismissed as a mere side effect of immense donor interest especially with respect to HIV and AIDS. The extreme pessimist might dismiss the same as yet another fantastic set of paperwork that the government produces whose theory will not really be actualized in practice. The extreme pessimist will not be helped to note that whereas there is a very thin line between HIS and eHealth, another set of similar documents on the national eHealth Strategy are being finalised by a different department of the two Ministries of Health.

The strategic plan for HIS has a vision of making Kenya “a centre of excellence for quality health and health related data and information for use by all”. One of the strategic objectives in the document which should interest the local ICT industry is for 'Strengthening use and application of information and communication technology, in data management' . Cited strategies for this include enhancing data management functions with hardware and software, developing an integrated web-enabled database system, support for data flow (data connectivity), systems maintenance, data security, and developing capacity of ICT personnel. Given the plan's budget of Ksh. 1.9 billion, the above strategies if implemented will surely have a spill over effect of further nourishing the country's fledgeling ICT industry.

The plan aims to directly create jobs for 4,310 more health records and information personnel, 227 ICT officers and 221 statisticians. As meagre as these numbers may look, this should bring a little hope to the disillusioned Kenyan youth studying ICT related degree and diploma courses. Perhaps greater economic impacts will be felt in the ICT industry if affirmative action is enforced to more directly favour local entrepreneurs. Such a protectionist approach will yield even better results in the software industry if local expertise, based on widely tested, global community supported open source approaches, can be developed and tapped. Such an approach will also compare better to acquiring turnkey or off-the-shelf solutions that have dependencies on foreign software vendors with expensive licensing models.

Although it might sound fair enough for the health sector to insist that all they want is a working ICT infrastructure (software and hardware) in pursuit of the HIS strategy, it might help to look beyond an optimal solution for the short term. To gradually build capacity of the local software industry with a reasonable level of tolerance will provide optimal long term solutions in terms of Sustainability, Return On Investment (ROI to the country's economy) and the long term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Moreover such an approach should eventually improve the country's foreign exchange situation by exporting human resources and intellectual property developed throughout HIS implementation. The approach will also be in line with the ICT board's vision of making Kenya a top ten global ICT hub.

Lastly, of concern is the apparently dismal engagement of the ICT fraternity in developing the HIS strategic plan. Stronger participation of the ICT board, local solution providers, and associations of ICT practitioners in such an ICT related domain is called for in the future. Such involvement of the domain experts will help to address the economic dimension which exists in the bigger picture of the country's vision 2030.