A West African Perspective on Open Source

Growing up in Nigeria, Kayode Odusote liked figuring out how things work. As a young boy, he would often purchase Radio Shack do-it-yourself kits and assemble them.

Years later he became a neurologist and professor, and more recently served as director for human resources development at the West African Health Organization (WAHO). WAHO is an umbrella organization of 15 member countries, and one of Professor Odusote’s key aims was to help these countries gather and use health worker data to inform their decisions. But this wasn’t easy. “We found that none of them had the kind of human resources information system that they could use for planning,” he recalls.

Working with limited resources, he wanted to avoid installing systems that relied on proprietary software, which entails various fees for licensing, upgrades, and customization. “With proprietary products,” he explains, “the vendor controls the costs.” He has stories of proprietary applications developed by vendors in Burkina Faso and Togo; the computers they were built for became outdated and the applications could not be updated to match current operating systems of new, donated computers. They became useless.

He found an open source solution in CapacityPlus’s iHRIS software, a suite of tools for managing and supporting health workers. Now, as a CapacityPlus consultant, he’s again working with WAHO to implement the software using a regional approach. CapacityPlus has also helped conduct iHRIS developer trainings. Because iHRIS is open source, local developers have been able to freely modify the code to suit their needs, and countries are learning from each other. “We now have people in Togo that can go to Mali to help,” says Professor Odusote. “Nigerians can go to Ghana and vice versa.”

He’s become a big fan of open source, and continues his boyhood enjoyment of figuring out how things work by “tinkering” with the iHRIS code himself.

We, in turn, have become big fans of Professor Odusote. During his recent visit to the US, we talked about his work in more depth as background for a technical brief on a regional approach to human resources information systems. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.