Scaling Digital Solutions Improves Health Security – Locally and Globally

By Bram Piot, Project Director, PSI

Strong disease surveillance systems are essential to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with the urgency of now.

Since 2019 and with funding from the Australian Indo-Pacific Center for Health Security and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PSI has worked alongside Ministries of Health in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to strengthen disease surveillance and response. Our secret sauce: combining the muscle of our long-term engagement in infectious disease control and specifically in malaria surveillance as a core elimination strategy with innovative digital solutions like DHIS2 and social media digital assistants or “chatbots.” All solutions follow the Principles for Digital Development that PSI endorses.

Through it, we’ve seen how disease surveillance mechanisms integrated into routine health information systems equip Ministries of Health and Public Health Emergency Operations Centers (PHEOCs) to monitor and contain outbreaks (provided that they are designed to capture timely case-based disease data), and track surveillance data from a comprehensive range of health service delivery points including the private sector.

What have we learned that you, too, can apply? Our latest case studies highlight our takeaways to improving disease surveillance and response systems through digital tools.

Strengthening surveillance in Laos

Approach: In Laos, we coordinated the nationwide roll-out of a new notifiable disease surveillance module within the DHIS2-based national health management information system. This has rapidly resulted in better, more timely, and more relevant disease surveillance data.

Learning: Throughout the process, technology development has been the easy part. Building lasting capacity, ensuring local ownership, and adequate management strategies, are equally – if not more – important than the digital solution itself. Learn more here.

Turning to social media in Myanmar

Approach: In Myanmar, PSI scaled up the use of social media chatbots connected to DHIS2, and tailored them to the needs of private sector health care providers – the clinics, community health workers, and pharmacies that are on the frontline of local health security. Our flexible, need-driven approach to project implementation has demonstrated that it is possible to rapidly design and deploy innovative digital solutions at scale.

Learning: It is possible to actively engage the private healthcare sector in disease surveillance and response, even in complex emergency settings, using social media digital solutions connected to DHIS2. Learn more here.

Building a resource dashboard in Cambodia

Approach: In Cambodia, we developed and deployed a pilot PHEOC resources dashboard within the national “CamEWARN” disease surveillance system hosted in DHIS2, to support the emergency preparedness and response of the Communicable Diseases Control department. Through the collective effort of a broad range of stakeholders, including government officials, health workers, and technical experts, the resulting dashboard successfully mapped key public health resources needed by health authorities to effectively respond to public health emergencies. This is in line with one of the outstanding recommendations of the Joint External Evaluation for Cambodia. This effort is set to be expanded and rolled out nation-wide in 2023. Learn more here.

Learning: besides disease surveillance and supply chain monitoring, PHEOC information systems should include dashboards compiling essential indicators on public health emergency response resources

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