Newswise — HARARE, Zimbabwe — The Government of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and Child Care, assisted by RTI International and supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, launched a new Zimbabwe national health information system with mobile health messaging.

"This is a historical mark in Zimbabwe's transition from using obsolete paper based and electronic systems in the collection and dissemination of health statistics to the use of faster and more modern web-based systems," said Dr. Ponesai Nyika, deputy director of the National Health Information and Surveillance Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC). "These initiatives will improve service delivery through data-driven resource allocation and timely provision of scientific data for evidence-based programing across all health programs and disease components including HIV and tuberculosis."

The new health information system is based on the District Health Information System version 2 (DHIS 2), which supports the collection and analysis of routine health services data and non-routine data such as population estimates. The Ministry of Health and Child Care has already integrated outpatient/inpatient, health facility statistics, HIV, tuberculosis, psychiatric and village health worker datasets.

The RTI-led Zimbabwe Health Information and Support Project facilitated the local customization, training and implementation of DHIS 1.4 in 2011 and 2012. To further efficiency, the project piloted and successfully rolled out version 2 to all district health offices, city health departments, provincial health offices and the Ministry of Health and Child Care national office in 2013.

RTI also supported the customization of FrontlineSMS and training of health workers on the FrontlineSMS mobile phone-based Weekly Disease Surveillance System. In addition, RTI also trained health workers on the Early Infant Diagnosis system, built on the same FrontlineSMS platform, incorporating a two-way mobile health messaging system. Both systems have been implemented in more than 75 percent of health care facilities in Zimbabwe.

Through the mobile phone-based systems, health facilities can easily transmit data through text messaging to a central server that automatically forwards data to DHIS 2. This process allows health officials to access current disease surveillance data for detecting potential disease outbreaks and evaluating public health policies.

With mobile phone-based reporting, the completeness and timeliness of reporting by participating health facilities increased by more than 90 percent for most of 2012 to 2013, compared to less than 50 percent prior to the deployment of this new system.

The system is also used to relay HIV early infant diagnosis information between health facilities and Zimbabwe's National Microbiology Reference Laboratory. Using the mobile phone-based system, nurses are able to notify the laboratory of early infant diagnosis samples collected in the field, and receive results on their mobile devices. A notification message is also sent to the infant caregiver to inform them on when to collect results from the health facility.