PAHO attributes health challenges to weak information systems

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Acting Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Jamaica, Dr. Hugo Prado, has attributed severe health challenges occurring in some countries to weak and ineffective information support systems.

However, he says some countries may be unable to implement effective systems, because they cannot afford it.

Dr. Prado made his comments at a national health information system assessment workshop in Kingston last week. Over 20 health sector stakeholders attended the forum, which was jointly staged by the Ministry and PAHO.

Prado said reliable and timely data, the “foundation” of public health in any society, must identify the most pressing needs and implement the most effective interventions.

Noting that public health challenges are becoming increasingly complex, Prado lamented the huge gap between what stakeholders currently know, and what they need to research to improve the standard of healthcare delivery in some countries. However, he admitted that their knowledge and understanding have improved significantly due to important investments in data collection.

“Information should be made a core part of the day-to-day management of health systems’ planning and delivery,” said Prado.

He explained that strong information systems ensure that data meet high standards of reliability, transparency and completeness and, for health information systems to function effectively, there are prerequisites that must be in place, and supported by legislative and regulatory systems for confidentiality, security, ownership sharing and rotation of data.

Warning that data alone will not “reveal the full situation”, Prado cited the need for the information to be analyzed and interpreted. He said it was pivotal to synthesize data from multiple sources, examining consistencies and contradictions, and summarizing health situations and trends to produce consistent assessments.

“Even in the strongest systems, an assessment is likely to reveal relative weaknesses in each component of the health information system,” said Prado. “Priorities will need to be set. Strengthening will (need to) be incremental, with step by step implementation of key actions, as resources and capacities permit.”

The national health information system assessment workshop is the first step in strengthening Jamaica’s health information system, as it provides a roadmap for the development of a national strategic plan, through a consultative process involving multiple stakeholders.

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