A project that is collecting data on reproductive health at the grassroots level is helping countries in Sub-Sahara Africa cut down on the frequency of data collection on stats such as maternal mortality, birth rates and contraceptive use from five years to six months.

The Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) project is a US$40 million initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, which is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The project employs researchers who use mobile phones to collect household and health facility data, and the results are turned into graphs and tables quicker than with traditional surveys.

PMA2020โ€™s primary aim is to collect data from a representative sample of households in eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa โ€” Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger and Uganda โ€” and two countries in Asia - India and Indonesia. This data is then used to estimate family planning and key water, sanitation and health (WASH) indicators on an annual basis in the 10 countries.

The project is currently being implemented through partner universities and research organisations, and the information gathered will be used by governments and private sector players to monitor, report and plan for operational decisions and advocacy at the community, country and global levels.

โ€œPMA2020 is making this data available every six months, which could change the game by enabling policymakers to make real-time decisions.โ€ - Selamawit Desta, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

"While data on family planning are usually gathered every five years through countriesโ€™ demographic and health surveys, PMA2020 is making this data available every six months, which should enable policymakers to make real-time decisions,โ€ Selamawit Desta, program officer of PMA2020 said during a meeting on data collection for reproductive health in Kenya on 27 June.

The meeting involving the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund and the Kenya government aimed to assess the countryโ€™s progress in addressing family planning issues.

โ€œWe are hopeful that we can attract investments that will allow the data collection platforms to continue to the year 2020 and beyond,โ€ Desta added.

Peter Gichangi, director of science and research at International Centre for Reproductive Health Kenya, the PMA2020 implementing partner in Kenya, says that a network of resident enumerators use mobile phones to collect data from households and health facilities, and transfer the data to a central server.

โ€œThe data is then validated, aggregated and prepared into tables and graphs, making results more quickly available to stakeholders as compared to a paper-and-pencil survey,โ€ Gichangi adds, noting that it takes two to four weeks to create the accessible results.

Kigen Bartilol, head of the Reproductive and Maternal Health Unit at Kenyaโ€™s Ministry of Health, says that his outfit is closely working with the PMA2020 and will integrate the data into national monitoring and evaluation systems.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director and under-secretary-general of the United Nations, adds that governments and all partners in reproductive health need to provide information and access to voluntary family planning to all people of reproductive age.

โ€œThese will enable both women and men to make informed decisions about their reproductive health and all individuals to protect themselves from infections,โ€ Osotimehin said.

*This article was produced by SciDev.Netโ€™s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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