Author: Lindsay Baldwin

OpenELIS Selected for Google’s Innovative Season of Docs Program

Google has selected OpenELIS Global, a laboratory information system stewarded by the Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI), as a participant in the first year of its Season of Docs, a unique program that pairs technical writers with real-world open source projects. DIGI implements OpenELIS Global in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti and manages contributions to the software as a part of the global developer community.

“We rely on talented contributors from the global health software community to ensure that our tools have the biggest impact and are available to the widest audience possible,” explained Casey Iiams-Hauser, Senior Digital Health Specialist with DIGI and the OpenELIS Global Product Owner. “By being transparent about our challenges and triumphs, we benefit from peer-to-peer sharing to problem solve for the benefit of the whole community.”

Technical writer Areesha Tariq was paired with the OpenELIS Global project as a part of the initiative. Based in Islamabad, Pakistan, Areesha has a background in software engineering and her writing focuses predominantly on user guides. She will work to improve OpenELIS Global end-user documentation by turning the current user manual into more pragmatic and accessible job aids.

Areesha is excited to join the team, saying, “I feel great to be selected as the technical writer for OpenELIS Global. It will be a new learning experience to work in an open-source community. I hope that I will be able to complete the project and continue working with the team so that I can contribute to a global cause.”

By participating in Google’s Season of Docs initiative, DIGI will not only benefit from Areesha’s contributions, it will also have the opportunity to increase awareness of OpenELIS in the global community by having our projects posted to the initiatives website and reviewed by a large number of technical writers, open source organizations, and contributors. “We are excited to be a part of Season of Docs,” said DIGI Managing Director, Joanna Diallo. “During the application process we met a number of highly qualified technical writers and observed a lot of interest in ‘global goods’ like OpenELIS.”

The idea for DIGI’s technical documentation project grew out of a proposal to PATH’s Digital Square project, which like Google’s Season of Docs, invests in critical technology that can be accessed worldwide. DIGI’s proposal was only partially funded by Digital Square to develop practical designs and generalizable approaches to achieve interoperability among open-source, clinic-level data management systems via the OpenHIE framework. These systems include OpenELIS; OpenLMIS, a laboratory management information system; and OpenMRS, an electronic medical records (EMR) system. However, the OpenELIS documentation scope of work remained unfunded.

“Having focused our thinking already on OpenELIS documentation gaps for the Digital Square application allowed us to pull together our Season of Docs application quickly,” explained Diallo. “It was fortuitous timing – and it is inspiring to see both PATH and Google investing in open source organizations.”

New Digital Group Offers Full Range of Digital Health Services

In winter 2019, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) launched a new unit: the Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI). The DIGI team builds upon 15 years of experience at I-TECH designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating health information systems (HIS) around the world.

The group — co-led by Dr. Nancy Puttkammer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health, and Jan Flowers, Clinical Faculty and Director of Global Health Informatics in the Clinical Research Group (CRIG) — provides services to help programs scope and build technical solutions to manage program or clinical data.

“The shared faculty lead role helps the group leverage diverse resources from departments across the university,” said Joanna Diallo, DIGI Managing Director.

By promoting open-source “global goods” that are supported by implementer communities, DIGI helps partners such as Ministries of Health to be able to own and continue to develop long-term solutions.

In April, Flowers received a Digital Square award to lead an online community of practice on open-source lab information systems like OpenELIS, and Dr. Puttkammer received a Digital Square award to design and test practical and generalizable solutions for interoperability between OpenELIS and two other leading open source tools: OpenMRS and OpenLMIS.

DIGI partners with global communities to develop and enhance digital tools and provide technical assistance for effective implementation and sustainability. The team works closely with on-the-ground experts and stakeholders to guide and facilitate governance, capacity building, and continuous quality improvement using a maturity model lens.

DIGI works in the following technical areas:

  • Software Design & Development
  • Health Data Exchange Standards
  • Health Systems Architecture
  • Information Security
  • Evidence-Based Evaluation and Implementation
  • Digital Health Workforce Development

“With investment from the I-TECH center to launch DIGI, we have been able to approach the work in a new way that is flexible and responsive and promotes cross project sharing,” explained Dr. Puttkammer. “We hope this will continue to strengthen the department’s standing as a leader in digital health.”

Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment Strategy Support in Malawi

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in Malawi.1 In response, the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Malawi developed the National Cervical Cancer Control Strategy 2016-2020. The strategy outlines comprehensive interventions, including the integration of cervical cancer screening services into HIV care.

In 2019, I-TECH supported the review and update of the National Cervical Cancer Guidelines and the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework in partnership with the Department of Reproductive Health and the Department of HIV/AIDS in Malawi. As part of that support, the team conducted a survey to establish which sites in the South West Zone had received equipment for cervical screening and treatment services from the MoH and found that 45 health facilities offer services.

To ensure that the strategy endorses current evidence-base approaches and M&E frameworks, the team convenes cervical cancer partner meetings to draft standard operating procedures and the M&E framework, revise monitoring tools, and conduct situational analyses.

In addition to contributing to national strategy updates, I-TECH is working with the MoH to ensure same-day treatment or follow-up for all pre-cancerous lesions.

1 Government of Malawi, National Cervical Cancer Control Strategy 2016-2020.

HIV ECHO Tele-Mentoring in the Caribbean

I-TECH facilitates an HIV ECHO® program, a distance-based tele-mentoring program for providers and clinics across the region. Weekly sessions provide access to brief HIV clinical updates along with an opportunity to present and receive consultation on challenging or unusual clinical care issues from a team of multi-cadre HIV experts as well as from other members of the community of practice. In response to an identified need, the program added a monthly mental health and HIV session.

In 2019, I-TECH began supporting the Medical Research Foundation to initiate a similar HIV/STI ECHO® program that will target HIV and STI care and treatment sites in Trinidad and Tobago as well as with in other countries in the region.

Expanding Cervical Cancer Screening in Zimbabwe

I-TECH began the expansion of cervical cancer screening for women living with HIV aged 25-49 in Zimbabwe in 2019. I-TECH initially identified a provisional list of 89 sites for the implementation of visual inspection with acetic acid and cerviography (VIAC). The team then recruited, trained, and deployed dedicated VIAC nurses to 29 sites. Additionally, in an effort to improve service coverage in hard to reach areas without the necessary equipment, district teams carry VIAC equipment to outreach point facilities who have booked client appointments in advance. Random samples of images from clients are anonymized and sent to a gynecologist from the University of Zimbabwe for quality assurance.

Across all facilities, 9,664 HIV-positive women aged 25-49 years have been screened for cervical cancer with 93% testing negative, 6% testing positive for lesions, and 1% having suspected cancer.

HIS Strategic Planning in Cameroon

National strategies, policies, and governance define the implementation environment for health information systems (HIS) and are recognized as a foundational building block for health system goals, including universal health coverage and control of HIV and other infectious diseases. I-TECH is supporting Cameroon’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to develop a national eHealth strategic plan by September 2019. A goal of the project will be to develop governance structures and processes, which can continue onward beyond the strategic planning process under MOH leadership, for on-going strategic direction, coordination, and oversight of investments in the national HIS.

National Data Warehouse and Dashboards in Botswana

I-TECH has worked with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other implementing partners in Botswana to develop and implement robust national health information system that enable greater efficiency and accountability and strategic use of information. I-TECH’s work on the National Data Warehouse ensures the availability of strategic information to monitor progress toward reaching epidemic control, with particular focus on Treat All, linkages to care, and HIV clinical cascade for 90-90-90 care continuum.

I-TECH Shares Work at IAS 2019

Yusuf Babaye, MBA, MSc, presents his poster at IAS 2019.

Yusuf Babaye, MBA, MSc, I-TECH Country Representative for Malawi, presenting a poster at IAS 2019.

Representatives from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) attended the 10th Annual International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2019) in Mexico City, Mexico on 21-24 July 2019. The IAS Conference on HIV Science is a biennial conference that brings together approximately 6,000 researchers, advocates, policy makers, funders, and community leaders. It showcases advances in HIV care, prevention, and treatment; explores new directions for HIV care, prevention, treatment, and research; and features the latest in HIV research.

Yusuf Babaye, MBA, MSc, I-TECH Country Representative for Malawi, presented a poster titled, “A Cross-Sectional Study on Levels of Knowledge on Provision of Second-Line Antiretroviral Therapy in Malawi in 2016.” The poster focused on the need to build capacity for providing second-line antiretroviral therapy following first-line treatment failure.

I-TECH’s partner notification services work in Mozambique was also highlighted in an article that was included in the Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS) supplement published prior to IAS 2019. The supplement, “The Power of Partners: Experiences from implementing and scaling-up HIV partner notification and index testing services,” shares key lessons learned from programs implementing, evaluating, and scaling up partner notification services.

Facility-Based HIV Testing Services in Namibia

As a key component of I-TECH’s support to HIV care continuum strengthening in Namibia, I-TECH supports the Ministry of Health and Social Services in efforts to achieve the UNAIDS target of “90% of people living with HIV will have a known status.” I-TECH supports above-site HIV testing activities at region-and national-levels, as well as technical assistance and direct service delivery at the site-level across 78 facilities in 6 regions in Namibia.

I-TECH implements evidence-based HIV-testing strategies to maintain efficient programs while increasing HIV-positive yield including optimized provider-initiated testing and counseling (PITC) and index testing.

  • I-TECH’s clinical and technical teams place emphasis on offering PITC to high-risk populations including STI patients, clients attending family planning services, presumptive and confirmed TB cases, and patients attending in-patient hospital services. In addition, efforts will be made to increase testing among men through the above strategies, as well as encouraging more flexible hours for HIV testing through extended hours of operation.
  • I-TECH participates in the national-level index testing work group, helping to finalize paper tools and training materials for national deployment. At the site level, I-TECH strategic information staff ensure complete documentation of partner status of all enrolled patients, with testing offered to identified partners. I-TECH in Namibia is also working with I-TECH country offices across the network to leverage expertise in index testing training and monitoring and evaluation. I-TECH is currently supporting discussions at the national-level concerning the role of self-testing as an extension of services offered to facility-based clients, as another option for ensuring that more partners are tested.

I-TECH is currently supporting facilitation of stepped training for HIV recency testing in 5 high-volume districts in Namibia. Recency testing provides insight into the timeline of a client’s HIV infection. As Namibia approaches epidemic control, identifying, and targeting efforts and interventions to hard to reach populations most at risk for HIV acquisition will be essential.