Uganda’s Electronic Databases: From Guesswork to Real Data Management

I used to work at the Registrar of the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council where I was the custodian of all information pertaining to the Ugandan nursing cadre. I often felt humbled when people, including those from high-ranking organizations, would come to me seeking data. Too often though, I felt helpless and guilty knowing that the data I gave them was inaccurate. I would sit among heaps of paper, data piled up from the 1930s when the Council was established, wishing there was a better system for processing this data. Although every day we collected more data, there was no way we could really use it all because there was no data analysis system. I would talk to colleagues at the other health professional councils who also felt a sense of helplessness, and we moved on with our daily tasks with our shoulders down. The use of reliable information for health planning eluded Uganda for a long time.

Now, I work as the senior human resources development advisor on the Uganda Capacity Program, which collaborates with four health professional councils and the Ministry of Health to keep their electronic databases up and running. The good news coming out of Uganda is that there are no more guilty registrars. Today, the health professional councils have the systems they need to generate reliable and accurate data for strong planning, production, and management of the health workforce.

Successful human resource planning requires striking the right balance between the production needs and the management needs of health personnel. It also means providing the right cadres of workers, in sufficient quantity, and ensuring they are equipped with the right knowledge, skills, and attitudes to perform tasks in the appropriate place and time. The accuracy of planning mechanisms and forecasts depend on the quality of data available and the expertise of the individuals interpreting them. This data is essential in developing and applying sound human resources development policies to plan for health workforce needs, produce new health workers, and manage current health workers.

Last month, two of my colleagues and I published an article, “Tracking and monitoring the health workforce: a new human resources information system (HRIS) in Uganda,” which describe Uganda's transition from a paper filing system to an electronic human resources information system capable of providing valuable information the country’s health workforce. The article details the five-step process used to employ this system at the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council, but this is just one example.

The Ugandan Ministry of Health’s database has information on active health workers. this information regularly, With support from the Uganda Capacity Program, the Human Resources Management Department analyzes this information to produce a biannual report on human resources for health, which is a hotcake waited for by many organizations and health partners. We often get calls at Uganda Capacity Program offices with the question, “When is the next biannual human resources management report coming out?”

This report and information from the health professional councils are essential in understanding practical things, such as how many health workers need their licenses renewed or other types of verifications.  Districts can use the data to make sure they are employing appropriately qualified candidates in the right numbers. This work has also helped cut down on the number of people who were not actually trained but who were masquerading as qualified health workers since districts are now able to verify an applicant’s qualifications using the online database. The Uganda Capacity Program also plans to collaborate with the Ministry of Health to link in more districts to the established Ministry and health professional councils’ databases.

It has been a privilege for me to see, and be a part of, this transformation in how we collect and use data, and I know it is making a real difference in how we plan for and manage Ugandan health workers so they can offer people the highest quality of care.