A decade ago, people thought that cancer was not a significant health issue in Pakistan—because there was little data on the disease. There were few diagnostic facilities and many of the cancer cases were not reported. As the health system strengthened, with better equipped diagnostic facilities and trained health workers, the facts emerged; Pakistan has a cancer burden that is not “insignificant.”
Similarly, data digitization and access to health management information systems has brought greater transparency to health planners and the public. At first, people blamed misinformation—the numbers were not right. People denied such a high incidence of disease and health managers feared penalties. But the data was correct—it was now just more available. The situation was addressed by designing interventions around accuracy, timeliness of data, as well as the use of information. The online data brought a level of transparency and led to the process of accountability and action.
People should not be penalized for reporting accurate health data. A strong health information system is critical to examining why an infectious disease outbreak occurs—and as the system progresses, trends are highlighted, which enables health managers to predict and plan effectively for the inevitable.
We saw an example of this in the recent HIV outbreak that was reported in one of the provinces. The health management information system implemented by the Department of Health with technical assistance from USAID’s IHSS-SD project, implemented by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., showed an upward trend in reported cases. Having that data available and visible enabled the provincial health team to jump into action. They were able to pinpoint why the health crisis occurred and addressed the issue.
Today the health information system is enabling health managers not only to respond to health outbreaks, but also to predict where needs will occur, develop plans to address them, and thus ensure that people are receiving the services they need when they need them. This is a critical step for any country in addressing infectious diseases and ensuring global health security.