Quality data and surveillance

Teams working with PATH’s MACEPA program in Zambia use Android smart phones equipped with Open Data Kit software to collect demographic information as they go house-to-house testing and treating for malaria. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Teams working with PATH’s MACEPA program in Zambia use Android smart phones equipped with Open Data Kit software to collect demographic information as they go house-to-house testing and treating for malaria. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

As each country battles malaria, they need to know when and where the battle is being won, and where significant challenges remain. Surveillance of the disease can provide those answers. And when the country, or a district within the country, has been able to reduce an area’s parasite prevalence to a handful of cases and is on the road to elimination, accurate, rapid surveillance becomes even more important because it allows malaria teams to focus special attention and direct follow-up to the few remaining cases.

At this stage nimble responses are critical for identifying, containing, and treating malaria to prevent further transmission. Furthermore, quality data is needed to inform planning and targeting of resources and interventions, and to help us understand what is and isn’t working. For all these reasons quality data reporting and surveillance systems are essential to the malaria elimination effort.

Photo credit: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Photo credit: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

National demographic and health surveys provide provide a big-picture view of a country’s health situation, with information on a wide range of subjects including education, mortality, and nutrition, and data on specific illnesses. In-depth data on important malaria-specific indicators comes via nationally representative malaria indicator surveys.

But while surveys are useful for understanding longer-term trends, in order to achieve elimination of malaria, more precise and timely information is required at the provincial, district, and health facility catchment area levels. Countries at the forefront of this approach put data collection capabilities into the hands of health facility staff and community health workers who seek out malaria cases, record results on their mobile phones, and upload the findings to a central database—a method called rapid reporting. Zambia is among the African countries that have embraced both surveys and rapid reporting. It is the only country in Africa to have completed five national malaria surveys, and staff from over 600 Zambian clinics submit weekly reports via mobile phone.

Eliminating malaria hinges on local and national staff making the right decisions. Quality data reporting and surveillance systems serve to provide the data they need.