Data to fight disease: A new partnership to improve HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment data in Zambia

We’re partnering with Zambia’s National AIDS Council to build new tools to sift through reams of official data on HIV/AIDS, and apply it for better outcomes.

March 6, 2018

Emilie Efronson, Jacob Sims

This week, AidData formally launched a new partnership with Zambia’s National Aids Council (NAC) as part of our DREAMS Innovation Challenge award. In the coming months, this coalition will work to provide local actors with a stronger evidence base from which to make critical decisions on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Zambia is among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS globally—in 2016, UNAIDS reported that around 1.2 million people in Zambia were living with HIV, 12.4% of adults had it, and there were 59,000 new infections during the same year. Without timely, accurate, and easily applicable information about where new infections are occurring and what resources are currently being deployed, an effective counter-strategy to this epidemic is severely hampered.

The National AIDS Council was formed in response to the profound impact of HIV/AIDS on Zambia’s health care system. Mandated to coordinate a national approach to countering HIV/AIDS, the NAC is the main collector and monitor of data on the country’s HIV/ AIDS prevention and coordination strategies. The council’s current health information management information system, the NAC-MIS, collects quarterly information from partners on their HIV-related activities by district. However, the NAC-MIS relies on paper-based data collection, hindering timely reporting and excluding important data needed by decision-makers to respond effectively to the epidemic.

In July 2016, AidData was awarded $1.3 million by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in a global challenge for innovative ideas to reduce HIV/AIDS rates especially among adolescent girls and women in 10 countries, including Zambia. Through this new partnership enabled by the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, our team in Zambia is helping the council upgrade the NAC-MIS system by merging digitally-collected location-related information from partners with geo-referenced indicator data. The ultimate goal is to make this new tool interoperable with other data systems—leveraging Zambia’s Health Management Information Systems’ repository of high-quality indicator data and Zambia’s ‘Situation Room’ system, which focuses mostly on treatment data. Creating links between these sources of information will provide the best available picture of what is happening on-the-ground, both in terms of HIV prevention and treatment interventions, and provide the opportunity to assess the impact of those interventions.

The council was selected as AidData’s in-country partner following a number of data scoping activities which took place during 2017. Consultations were conducted with 40 key stakeholders in Zambia’s HIV/AIDS prevention space and were aimed at understanding: 1) the existing data landscape, 2) data sources which informed HIV/AIDS decision-making, and 3) desired features from stakeholders for a future decision-support tool. Earlier this month, a small technical working group met to evaluate AidData's initial recommendations, determine final indicators for data collection, and begin to identify the most valuable data visualizations for users.

Over the coming months, AidData will continue to provide advice and technical support to ensure the new NAC-MIS and related digital data collection systems are built for purpose and that dynamic visualizations are created to facilitate efficient, evidence-based decision making for local actors. We are excited for the opportunity to move towards this ambitious vision together in 2018.

Emilie Efronson is a Program Manager in the Sustainable Development Intelligence program, currently managing AidData’s DREAMS Innovation Challenge project in Zambia. Jacob Sims is the Senior Program Manager for the Sustainable Development Intelligence program.

Editor’s Note: This article was funded [in part] by a grant from the United States Department of State as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State or JSI.

Member of the Strategic Information Theme working group meet to discuss the draft revision of indicators for the new upgrade to the NAC-MIS health information management system. Stakeholders from Zambia’s National Aids Council, the Ministry of Health, the CDC, the WHO, and NGOs provided feedback. Photo by Emilie Efronson/AidData.