We often cite the challenges we see in determining optimal approaches to strengthening health systems, many of which are due to the lack of current data about the health of communities and the performance of the health system. This critical gap in useful data to inform better decision making led us to form the Information Systems Group (ISG) at VillageReach, charged with developing new innovations and approaches in information communications technology (ICT).
In many cases, the reporting and requisitioning of medical commodities in low-income countries has been driven by paper-based processes. These are labor intensive, and prone to communication delays and human errors, but remain the accepted practice in areas with minimal ICT infrastructure. Today, however, communication networks are being deployed in a growing number of rural communities in low-income countries, making the broad-scale deployment of an electronic logistics management information system (LMIS) not only practical but inevitable.
To address this opportunity, a significant amount of our work in ISG is focused on OpenLMIS, a collaborative, community-focused initiative to create an open source electronic LMIS for health commodity supply chains in low-income countries. With a growing number of partners, the initiative is focused on meeting our goal of designing, developing, and sharing open source software, tools and methodologies, from which Internet-enabled LMIS can be developed and customized for country deployments.
With OpenLMIS, we see the opportunity to enable ministries of health and their partners to improve their replenishment process, but also to gain access to critical information that contributes to optimal decision-making – this ranges from the facility manager at a health center who wants to submit a requisition, to a packing clerk at the warehouse who needs to fill an order, as well as related stakeholders who want real-time visibility into how well the supply chain is performing. With that greater amount of information at their disposal, we expect healthcare administrators to be able to make more accurate and timely decisions that improve health system performance, including limiting stock outs of essential medicines and vaccines, and reducing interruptions in service delivery due to stock shortages and health worker absences.
The OpenLMIS collaboration has made significant progress in software development over the past few months:
- With our partners, we have developed a detailed set of requirements for a new electronic LMIS that can be customized, configured and deployed in multiple countries.
- The first phase of software development has been completed, providing a core platform for future development of deployable LMIS solutions.
- Development has started on the second phase – a general but configurable system that includes features and functionality needed to meet basic LMIS requirements. A number of countries and financial supporters have expressed strong interest in deploying the solution.
In addition to these software development milestones, the OpenLMIS community itself is expanding. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, PATH, and USAID are providing essential funding for the initiative, and John Snow Inc., PATH, and the Tanzania and Zambia ministries of health are contributing valuable input to define requirements and functionality for the solution. Management Sciences for Health (MSH) has also recently joined the initiative.
We’re very excited about the new phase of work we’ve started and look forward to releasing updates later in the year. For those interested in more detailed tracking of OpenLMIS’ progress, please visit the OpenLMIS Repository regularly for updates.
Technology Director &
Group Lead, Information Systems Group