Transforming COVID-19 data management in Afghanistan

The fast developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic have created brand-new data management needs worldwide. The amount of data coming in from various sources and the pressure for daily, updated numbers and reports create an additional challenge both for the reporting sides and for the governments that collect these data. In this blog post we explore the adoption of ActivityInfo as a data management platform for monitoring the COVID-19 response in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a result of the partnership between the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan (AKAH,A) and the Ministry of Public Health in the country.

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), an agency under the Aga Khan Development Network, introduced ActivityInfo to the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan (MoPH) as a solution for the need to streamline the data management processes related to COVID-19 data in the 34 provinces of the country. The agency has been using ActivityInfo to monitor their own activities since the beginning of 2019 and found the platform a fitting solution to the need. In March 2020 the MoPH and AKAH,A started collaborating and in May 2020 their synergy resulted in the creation of a complete system for managing the data related to the COVID-19 response which is residing in ActivityInfo.

Mr. Hojibekov, Chief Executive Officer in the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan comments on the response of the ActivityInfo team to the urgent need for setting up a system for the Ministry of Public Health,

“The level of humanitarian sympathy that has been shown by ActivityInfo, showed that ActivityInfo is not like many other software developing companies aimed at profit only, but in cases of emergency, it really sympathizes and really helps agencies like the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan with providing the required emergency support.”

In Afghanistan, every province has a Crisis Coordination centre providing updates about COVID-19. In the beginning, data related to the progress of the pandemic for the 34 provinces of the country were arriving to the Ministry of Public Health from a variety of sources. Such sources included phone calls, emails and messages via messaging applications. This created an abundance of information that needed to be handled as swiftly as possible in order for the Ministry to be able to provide meaningful daily reports on the situation to the government, the media and the people of the country.

At the same time the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat in Afghanistan had established 6 Emergency Operation centres in the country, tailored to the needs of the response to COVID-19. Following some discussions between the Ministry of Public Health and the AKAH, A, these Emergency Operation centres teamed up with the Crisis Coordination centres and through this synergy the 34 provinces of the country were connected to Kabul in a consistent way.

At the first steps of the synergy there was a planning phase with many meetings and discussions with a large national committee. During this phase the two parts collaborated to define the requirements for the different types of data and forms.

Then, once the requirements for the different types of data and data collections processes were defined, the AKAH,A and the MoPH collaborated on designing the Forms in ActivityInfo. Following the design of the Forms, there were various modifications and optimizations based on new lessons learnt during the process.

“The main thing is that the Form should be simple.”,

notes Mr.Iqbal Sufizada who is leading the MERLI department in the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat in Afghanistan and who worked closely with the Ministry of Public Health on the design of the data collection system.

During the design process both parts wanted to make sure that people filling in a Form wouldn’t need to go to various parts of the platform or view parts of the Form that are not needed. Once the system was in place and challenges of Internet connectivity across some provinces were addressed, both parties provided the orientation, the training and user guidelines in the local languages so that people in the provinces could quickly start using the platform to report on their data.

Data collection form in Dari in ActivityInfo for COVID-19 - Communication Activities MoPH
Data collection form in Dari in ActivityInfo for COVID-19 - Communication Activities MoPH

Since then all formal data related to COVID-19 are collected in ActivityInfo using Forms in one database under the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan. People who are reporting their data just have to open the Form and fill in the data. The Ministry of Public Health can quickly access both a high level and a detailed view of the situation in the country through a single source. Some people from the AKAH,A are also part of this database to help by monitoring the process and control issues that may arise regarding the data.

Table View in ActivityInfo for data collection for COVID-19 - Communication Activities
Table View in ActivityInfo for data collection for COVID-19 - Communication Activities

Table View of the Daily Laboratory Report in Dari - MoPH
Table View of the Daily Laboratory Report in Dari - MoPH

“People are finding ActivityInfo much easier compared to many other tools that were developed before and during COVID-19. There were some online data collection tools that were not able to make people use them because of their complication. Due to the low capacity in the provinces people are not very familiar with the technology, the online systems etc. But with ActivityInfo they are very happy because it is very simple and easy to connect. Another good thing is that it doesn't require a very strong bandwidth or to be connected to the Internet. And now all the data is being collected through ActivityInfo and the Ministry of Public Health is using it for their reporting, based on the system that we developed”,

notes Iqbal Sufizada, Head of the MERLI department in the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan.

We would like to warmly thank Mr. Shodmon Hojibekov, Chief Executive Officer in the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan and Mr.Iqbal Sufizada who is leading the MERLI department in the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Afghanistan who explained to us how the synergy between the agency and the MoPH led to the creation of a complete, web-based data collection system for COVID-19.

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