Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides US$5m for second phase of Kuunika: Data for Action Programme

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided US$5 million to the Malawi Government for the implementation of the second phase of Kuunika: Data for Action Programme.

The Foundation’s Senior Programme Officer, Marty Gross, made the announcement at the launch of the second phase of the programme in Lilongwe on Friday.

Gross said the investment is expected to build on catalytic achievements in Malawi and establish a regional hub of evidence and replicable tools to support the forthcoming Foundation digital health and data systems strategy for HIV.

Gross–The investment will build on catalytic achievements in Malawi and establish a regional hub of evidence and replicable tools–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

He added that the grant will specifically advance the next generation of novel analytics to optimize HIV testing, prevention, and treatment programmes, effectively test, pilot, and implement new digital solutions to improve HIV outcomes, expand, sustain, and transition essential digital health capabilities within the Malawian Ministry of Health (MOH).

“By grant end, we envision an MOH fully managing (technically and financially) a cutting-edge digital health and strengthened use of data in the HIV program. We believe that the MOH will have better capacity to develop, implement, and evaluate advanced analytics and digital tools to measurably improve HIV outcomes. For the first two years prime implementing partner: Cooper/Smith will work with local implementing partners for activity implementation and staff support.

“By the third year, we anticipate that funding from this grant to flow through an MoH funding mechanism that will pay top up salaries for the seconded staff, following a successful capacity integration into civil service established staff positions,” he said.

Mwansambo–Kuunika Phase II will help government in the implementation of Essential Health Package–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

Gross further stated that the grant complements to other grants that the Foundation is already supporting, including the Blantyre Prevention Strategy program, the Viral Load Results Return program, Advanced HIV Disease programs, and other investments.

He said the investment comes at an exciting time for Malawi when the country is also proving to be an exemplar for the global digital health community. Over the last few years, we have seen the Government of Malawi develop a cohesive and pragmatic vision for her digital health ecosystem.

“Through this vision, the country has developed an interoperability framework that leveraged the international OpenHIE standards designed for sustainable and local maintenance and incremental expansion. With this in place, the MOH then developed core building blocks for data alignment (for example the Master Health Facility Registry), along with easy-to-adapt data exchange protocols and then automated routine exchange between key data systems for HIV.

A cross-section of the dignitaries that attended the launch of the Kuunika Phase II Programme–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times

“Through building on other investments such the Electronic Medical Records System, more stakeholders than ever have access to the latest, most comprehensive information about the performance of HIV services. Another benefit is that these foundational systems are being used by many other actors to achieve health system objectives,” emphasized Gross.

Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Charles Mwansambo, said the aim of the project was to strengthen digital and data systems to support the delivery of health services as the Ministry moves towards Universal Health Coverage.

Mwansambo disclosed that with direct oversight from the ministry, the Kuunika Phase I project helped to strengthen digital and governance systems, implementation of digital systems and has improved the availability and use of data at various levels of healthcare.

“Of great significance is the focus of the project to vitalize the operations of the Digital Health Division by seconding a group of technical staff. Through this support, the Ministry has been agile in responding to emerging demands such as the Covid-19. The Kuunika Phase II Project is an extension to the first phase with the same aim to strengthen health systems with focus on institutionalizing the gains achieved in Phase I. These objectives are in line with the Ministry’s vision on use of technologies for health service delivery as highlighted in the National Digital Health Strategy 2020 – 2025,” he said.

The PS emphasized that the vision of the ministry remains to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and that in attempting to move towards UHC countries, including Malawi, face difficult choices about how to prioritize health issues and expenditure such as which services to expand, whom to include and how to shift from out-of-pocket payments to prepayment.

He said as part of the process to address these key issues, the ministry is implementing the Essential Health Package (EHP) and that digital health presents an opportunity to increase access and coverage of the UHC through the EHP services.

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