Collaboration with Ugandan Students Expands Reach of Software Systems in the Health Sector

Working in the field of global health we often hear the global health workforce shortage: we don’t have enough doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, community health workers in developing countries. This is true, but what we hear less about is how we manage and support the people we do have, which is also crucial and one of the main charges of the Uganda Capacity Program.

One way the Uganda Capacity Program is helping to manage and support the current health workforce is through the development and rollout of the iHRIS software suite, an Open Source operating system developed under the USAID-funded and IntraHealth-led Capacity Project. The rollout includes iHRIS Qualify, which can be used to track health workers’ licensing or certification and the number of health workers lost through attrition, and iHRIS Manage, which can help an organization design and manage a comprehensive human resources strategy.

As with any system, the effectiveness and longevity of these tools is dependent on having qualified technical support to maintain and adapt the software. In Uganda and in many developing countries, there is often a shortage of information technology (IT) experts—just as there is a shortage of health workers. In response, the Uganda Capacity Program launched a collaborative internship program with the Makerere University’s Faculty of Computing and Information Technology this past summer.

Participating Makerere students were given a four-week intensive course on Open Source technology by IntraHealth staff and were then placed in offices with established human resources information systems (HRIS) such as the Ministry of Health, the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council, Allied Health Professionals Council, Pharmacy Council, and the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council. In addition to working with the councils to install iHRIS Qualify or iHRIS Manage, the interns worked with the existing systems managers to manage and clean data and provide data analysis support. They were also able to work with the councils to customize data collection forms to make sure the councils were getting the information they needed and offer basic technical support in the offices.

One intern, Barbara Nansamba, said, “I can now terminate cables without any trouble. I can connect a printer to several machines and am learning PHP as well as XML. Most important of all is the fact that I have been able to interface with Ubuntu, install SSH, and use it for remote login and sharing files. I was also able to install the HRIS on it.”

This type of internship program is one of the first and has one that has caught the attention of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) office here in Uganda. Last week, the Uganda Capacity team met with several USAID staff, including David Eckerson, USAID Uganda mission director, and Meghan Rhodes, USAID Uganda health team leader, to talk about how our collaboration with Makerere computer science students can broaden the reach of our program, build local capacity, and ensure the sustainability of the information systems we are launching, which are foundations for a strong health system. We explained how, with the support of the interns, we are planning to reach 40 new districts with iHRIS software systems and are planning to work with other health development partners to support all of Uganda’s 112 districts.

The Uganda Capacity Program is IntraHealth-led and USAID-funded.