Why Are Many Gambians Dying Young? (Cont'd.)
Why Are Many Gambians Dying Young? (Cont'd.)
Is it lack of adequate and reliable data to influence our healthcare policies/strategies?
By Bakary M. Jallow, My Basse Associate Editor
As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The inadequate management of our citizens’ health concerns can be partly attributed to the scarce data or lack thereof to influence our national health policies. Important policies such as health promotion have to be backed by meaningful data that is accurate and reliable and not by mere instincts or gut feelings if we are to move the pin in our nation’s health profile. We cannot be doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. If we are committed to keeping our citizens healthy and living long productive lives, we have to use data to influence decision making.
Managing a nation’s health should take a proactive style and not a reactive approach. National health policy-makers should be capable of predicting their citizens' disease statuses by using predictable data. The Gambia can attain a better health status and boost the longevity of its citizens' lives by creating a robust and reliable health data collection system throughout its health facilities. Having a department that is solely responsible for collecting and analyzing health data will go a long way towards improving the health of Gambian residents.
Collecting data and storing it properly can be utilized by not only policy-makers but other stakeholders such as non-governmental institutions, students, researchers and people in academia for research purposes. Mined health data can be used for process or quality improvement purposes. People will be able to better predict disease and adverse health effects which will enable stakeholders to take proactive steps/processes and help mitigate or avert problematic health situations. Aggregating data will enable us visualize a bigger health picture and with that we can provide quality care and improve clinical performance in our healthcare facilities (1).
Data can be obtained through active surveillance programs, interviews, surveys, etc. Public health surveillance is essential for a nation’s health profile. Health data collected through surveillance is fundamental for the prevention and control of diseases. Public health surveillance helps a nation set its eyes on emerging illnesses and help detect public health emergencies. It will serve as the eyes and ears of public health policy-makers who can use the health data garnered as a tool for making policies and generating strategies and interventions to build a better health system. With accurate health data, assessment, planning, implementation and the evaluation of public health programs become more efficient and effective (2).
As a nation, our development will come short if we don’t take care of our population’s health burden. Our working population is vanishing and we need to address it now and not later. A country’s productivity is hampered by the short lifespan of its people. In this modern age, it is mind-bothering to hear people die in The Gambia of preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria. This shouldn't be. Collection of quality data will enable us generate statistics through data analysis which will go a long way in solving some of our nation’s healthcare needs such as the prevention of malaria. Public health initiatives should be based on statistics and data if meaningful results are to be achieved. Evidence-based practices and research should be our guiding principle if we are to see improvement in our health care system. Let’s utilize data to do epidemiological analyses of diseases and tackle them head on.
Collected data should be transparent and clear to enable stakeholders utilize it for the good of the people. What is more troubling is the collection of data and then restricting its usage. It is amazing how public officials sit on massive data that was collected using huge sums of money and refuse to share it with the public. The collected data is basically useless when it is sitting in some offices gathering dust or in some computers that are not accessible. The general public should be able to get into the Gambian Ministry of Health’s website and find out which diseases or illnesses killed most Gambians in a particular year or be able to see the distribution of diseases among the different regions of the country. Detailed vital statistics for The Gambia such as death rates, birth rates, causes of death, disease burdens, etc., should be made readily available to the public.
One sometimes wonders why Gambians are yet to reap the benefits of research from faculty and students a university normally brings to its community. Maybe I have not yet come across research carried out by the University of The Gambia’s Faculty Members; but I suspect even if there are any, the effect is not yet palpable. To say the least, the major Gambian newspapers are not talking about research done by the University of The Gambia professors. The University of The Gambia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, should be putting out health data and research that Gambians can benefit from. The University has been operating for more than a decade now and is about time its faculty engaged in meaningful research to improve the lives of Gambians. Students could be very instrumental in helping to collect data and I believe they should be fully utilized for that purpose.
To avoid premature deaths of The Gambia’s working population, we all ought to engage in a series of discussions and one of those discussions should be about a well-managed data system that will help shape our healthcare policies, and which as a result, could help create a pathway for a healthy nation. Without Gambian dwellers living healthy productive lives, our goal for any vision becomes just a mere dream with a high probability of that dream turning into a nightmare. Other nations are gearing up to revamp their healthcare systems in order to meet the demands of their aging populations because their citizens are living longer. The Gambia should not be an exception and we should not be left behind. We can work towards this by:
• Creating a well-structured quality data collection system that is efficient and effective.
• Decentralizing data collection and making it a standard process for every health facility in the country.
• Assisting, motivating and encouraging Gambians to study health informatics to help manage the country’s health data. Train people on how to accurately collect data.
• Using data and statistics to drive healthcare policy initiatives.
• Engaging and motivating folks in academia such as the University of The Gambia or Gambia College in doing research through the provision of research money and other incentives.
• Reinforcing record-keeping in all healthcare facilities.
• Making data transparent and available to all stakeholders. Health workers should be able and allowed to provide patient-protected data to the public without fear of being reprimanded.
• Partnering with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to collect and analyze vital health information.
Simple commonsense approaches will take us a long way, fellow Gambians. We have to create and analyze data through which we can formulate statistics to assess, plan, implement and evaluate our health programs if we hope to see a better Gambia tomorrow. We have to change our processes and make a halt to the status quo in the way we run our healthcare system; otherwise we will live to regret our actions in a very near future. Our public health policies/strategies should be data-driven and we should always remember every missed opportunity or missed step is a data point. Each Gambian child born today deserves to live a long and healthy life; it is our obligation and in our own national interest, to make sure that that happens.
1. Unite For Sight (n.d): Quality health Data. New haven, CT. Accessed on November 20, 2013 from: https://www.uniteforsight.org/global-health-university/quality-data
2. World Health Organization (19 Sept 2013): Immunization surveillance, assessment and monitoring. Public health Surveillance. Geneva, Switzerland. Accessed on November 21, 2013 from: https://www.who.int/immunization_monitoring/burden/routine_surveillance/en/
Why Are Many Gambians Dying Young? The series by the author
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www.mybasse.org/news/comment-gambians-and-the-environment/ (May 20, 2013)
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About the author: Bakary M. Jallow, a Registered Nurse, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Angelo State University and a Master's degree in Public Health from Texas A & M University, Texas. He is currently an Infection Preventionist Clinician with the John C. Lincoln Hospitals Network in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, where he resides with his wife Mariama Korka Bah-Jallow and their young daughter.
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