The symbiotic nature of health programs across the East Africa region presents both challenges and opportunities. Strong health systems and outcomes in one partner state contributes to another’s improvement, while poor health systems and outcomes can threaten its neighbors.
A regional approach is well recognized as a valuable and efficient path to support individual partner state health priorities as well as to scale up improved health outcomes. Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) play a key role in achieving improved health outcomes across the region by promoting collaboration and serving as a knowledge hub for partner states. Inhe East Africa region, which is comprised of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, the East African Community plays this important convening role.
Despite the strong efforts of the RIGOs to coordinate and harmonize across the region, challenges remain with systematically collecting and sharing relevant and usable knowledge among partner states to improve their health programs. Partner states face challenges in accessing strategic information and knowledge from local and international researchers due to limitations of current sharing tools and strategies. The absence of a harmonized approach to using global and regional learning serves to weaken individual partner state programs, their advocacy agendas, and program implementation. Knowledge management is a powerful tool to address these challenges.
Leadership and Learning Across Borders
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Kenya and East Africa Mission (USAID/KEA) East Africa Regional Development Cooperation Strategy (RDCS) 2016–2021 prioritizes a regional approach and emphasizes the value of regional governmental organizations to promote collaboration and share health information. To that end, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project has developed partnerships with RIGOs in order to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. These RIGOs include:
- East, Central, and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC);
- East African Community (EAC);
- East Africa Health Research Commission (EAHRC); and
- Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC).
Our work aims to support each institution in achieving its organizational mandate. Thus, we have develop a unique partnership with each organization. K4Health strengthens the efficient sharing of knowledge in the region through ongoing capacity strengthening, knowledge exchange events, and other methods of sharing knowledge across the region. Highlights of these approaches are described below:
Setting a Strong Foundation for KM: The ability of any institution to effectively and efficiently implement KM interventions depends on the skill set of its employees. For this reason, K4Health approaches all work with a focus on strengthening the technical expertise of individuals and institutions, and creating an environment that supports KM. With an eye toward sustainability, K4Health works with RIGOs to develop strategies, plans, procedures, and systems to institutionalize knowledge management. These efforts support RIGOs them in establishing systems and applying approaches that harness and share the most useful knowledge for the region to apply to policy decisions and health programs.
K4Health has worked closely with ECSA-HC and LVBC to develop KM strategies to guide the integration of KM within their individual organizations’ strategies. K4Health’s approach to KM strategy development is based on a systematic process. This process starts with a needs assessment, a concise definition of the target audience, and the development of achievable and measurable objectives.
K4Health has also conducted a series of trainings and workshops, complemented by ongoing mentorship. These events are, designed to meet organizational needs of our partners and improve staff capacity to use of a variety of KM approaches, including:
- Communities of practice
- Journal writing
- Social media
- Knowledge synthesis
- Editorial boards
- Internet searches
- Google Analytics
Events: K4Health worked with RIGO partners to facilitate a knowledge management share fair that brought together over 100 health professionals from 14 countries. Participants included staff members from ECSA-HC, EAC, and LVBC, as well as stakeholders at USAID missions, WHO country offices, and implementing partners. The main objectives of the share fair were to: 1) demonstrate KM tools and approaches, 2) build local KM capacity and leadership, and 3) foster a community/network of practitioners who work at the intersection of global health and KM in East, Central, and Southern Africa.
K4Health also partnered with LVBC and regional partners to hosta regional PHE symposium in 2017. The event facilitated sharing and learning across the region among PHE implementers, providing the opportunity to critically review PHE implementation and advocacy in the region over the past two years, and define a pathway toward mainstreaming an integrated PHE approach.
Journals and Digital Technology: K4Health is working closely with the EAHRC in the establishment and publication of the East Africa Health Research Journal (EAHRJ). The EAHRJ is an open-access, peer-reviewed journal developed to promote and facilitate the publication and application of East African-led research, with the ultimate goal of strengthening national and regional health policy and practice. Through the journal, the EAHRC also seeks to promote the development of human resource capacities and skills, exchange and disseminate health research information, and advocate for use of evidence generated from health research.
“The EAHRJ will promote and facilitate the application of knowledge from research to strengthen national and regional health policy and practice.”
Editor‐in-Chief Gibson Kibiki, MD, MMed, PhD Executive Secretary, East African Health Research Commission launching EAHRJ at the EAC’s 6th Health and Scientific Conference in March 2017
We worked with Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC)’s PHE networks to adopt a digital health M&E tool called the KoBoToolbox to improve data for decision making and advocacy. The tool served as a catalyst to streamline the region’s PHE programs by making data collection more consistent across the countries in the region and providing high-quality data to inform decision making for PHE programs.
K4Health collaborated with EAHRC to draft the East African Digital Health Roadmap Initiative (REACH), including supporting a series of consensus-building discussions among leaders from the region to define a regional roadmap for digital health across border. As a result, the East Africa has articulated and documented a shared regional commitment to use of technology for improving health outcomes. REACH will be used as a catalyst to guide digital health collective action in the East Africa Community over the next 10 years.