Launch of GEEKS Program in Zambia

Group photo of the participants                     Photo credit: David Phiri – ZNPHI
The Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in partnership with the University of Zambia supported by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) launched the level one Growing Expertise in E-Health Knowledge and Skills (GEEKS) Program from 16th to 20th July in Lusaka, Zambia.
The GEEKS, a 3-tiered program based on the Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) model is a valuable and cross-cutting program designed by the U.S. CDC to strengthen health systems, population health and global health security. Zambia was the first country in Africa to launch this program and based on the successes, it will be replicated in other countries.
Representing the Minister of Health, Professor Elwyn Chomba Permanent Secretary for Training at the Ministry of Health (MoH) acknowledged that the MoH recognizes the impact that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can have in transforming healthcare delivery by enabling information access and supporting healthcare operations, management, and decision making. “This training is key to the implementation and use of eHealth and therefore comes at a very opportune time when Zambia is scaling up eHealth systems, (Electronic Health Records, Electronic Logistics Management Information Systems, Laboratory Information systems),” she said.
The GEEKS program will support key partners and beneficiaries including Ministry of Health leaders, community partners, frontline public health workers and informatics scientists and practitioners. It is a sustainable three-tiered, competency-based, project-based learning approach, to develop and maintain informatics capacity at many levels of the national health system. A strong network of informatics professionals contributes to long-term sustainability of health programs and enables programs to respond to local and regional contexts.
Speaking during the official launch of the program the US ambassador to Zambia Daniel L. Foote underscored the U.S. government commitment to building capacity of health workforce in utilizing health information and communications technologies to improve the quality of patient care. “The U.S government remains committed to working side by side with the Ministry of Health and Smart Zambia to expand health infomatics capacities in the Zambian health care delivery system, “he said.
Participants were acquainted with skills to enable effective use of health information systems, within their organizations. These included:

  1. Knowledge management to support program operations;
  2. Application of informatics principles to design, develop, implement, and evaluate information systems to enable data-driven decision making;
  3. Improving data flow to support monitoring and evaluation; and
  4. Development of local and regional communities of informatics practice and a peer-to-peer learning culture.

GEEKS Tier 1 session was structured to provide skills in informatics methods and tools for recording health measurements; data analysis and visualization; health information exchange and related standards; public health preparedness and emergency management; molecular methods for detecting pathogens; and managing technological and social aspects of change. Participants were tasked to identify projects to work on that were considered for tier.
Dr Victor Mukonka the Director, Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) appreciated the U.S CDC for the support noting the critical role played by health informatics in various aspects of public health. “The ZNPHI and Africa CDC Southern RCC have an agenda to use high quality, evidence based relevant information to support its functions in Surveillance and Disease intelligence, as well as Epidemic Preparedness and Response (EPR), hence the commitment to building an adequate work force,” he said.
The ZNPHI in collaboration with Africa CDC Southern Africa Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) presented the electronic integrated disease surveillance and response (e-IDSR) platform that allows surveillance officers to identify, report and analyze data of priority diseases, conditions and events.
The take home message was that the participants need to employ a culture of problem solving, systems thinking and evaluation and feedback. There will be monthly webinars to engage with the facilitators and discuss pertinent issues.