MSH Leading Knowledge Management Project in Malawi to Strengthen Family Planning and HIV Services

As a partner in the Knowledge for Health project (K4Health), MSH is leading the implementation of a one-year knowledge management “demonstration” project in Nkhotakota and Salima districts in Malawi. The project aims to improve the exchange and use of family planning/reproductive health (FP/RH) and HIV & AIDS knowledge among managers and service providers at the national, district, and community levels to improve FP/RH and HIV & AIDS services.

Eighty-three percent of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas. FP/RH and HIV & AIDS services are largely delivered in community health centers and district hospitals that can be miles from local villages. To increase access to FP/RH and HIV & AIDS services, Malawi’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has been working with MSH and other partners to revitalize a cadre of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) to bring contraceptives and FP/RH and HIV & AIDS education directly to the rural population. The CHWs are trained and supervised by district management teams based at district hospitals.

Increasing Access to Information

However, a large information gap among managers and health providers is challenging the MOH’s outreach effort, as well as other FP/RH and HIV & AIDS service delivery. Respondents to a needs assessment conducted by MSH reported that they lack up-to-date and relevant FP/RH and HIV & AIDS information necessary to do their work. Even when information exists, it is scattered and difficult to find. CHWs also rarely receive updates after their initial training, even when new guidelines or protocols are introduced at the district or national level.

To centralize and increase accessibility of information, MSH, the MOH, and other service providers are establishing District Learning Centers (DLCs) in district hospitals in Nkhotakota and Salima that will provide a range of resources including print materials and opportunities for face-to-face training and networking opportunities. The DLCs will also house computers with free access to online and CD-ROM-based learning, including standardized FP/RH and HIV & AIDS “toolkits” directly relevant to Malawi. The toolkits will be developed by FP/RH and HIV & AIDS technical working groups sponsored by the MOH and will include information to support the implementation of national policies and standards. The working groups will also be responsible for keeping the toolkit information up-to-date.

Improving Knowledge Exchange through Mobile Networking

To improve knowledge exchange between district- and community-level health workers who spend the vast majority of their time in the field, MSH is establishing an SMS-based mobile telephone network, in collaboration with Frontline SMS and the MOH.  An SMS (short-message system) allows users to send text messages up to 160 characters between cell phones and other devices. MSH will also provide CHWs with cell phones and will use the SMS network to alert CHWs about new resources, training opportunities, changes in protocols, public health activities, and knowledge exchange forums within their district.

Instead of relying on periodic face-to-face meetings with their district coordinator, CHWs will also be able to use the network to request specific technical information as needed from the district management team, such as side effects of contraceptives or dosage amounts. They will also be able to immediately report important events to the district level, such as stock outs or transportation breakdowns.

After a  year, the project hopes to show that improving the quality of information as well as the channels for accessing and exchanging that information are an important component of  improving health care service delivery.

Knowledge for Health

The Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help facilitate the development and dissemination of high quality health information products to a broad network of public health organizations supporting program managers and health service providers around the world. K4Health is led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs in collaboration with Family Health International (FHI) and MSH.

MSH’s involvement in the K4H project includes supporting the development of the K4H Network, a global community of health professionals intended to provide access to information, expertise, people, ideas, and opportunities for its members; contributing technical expertise on knowledge management and dissemination strategies of evidence-based tools and resources in public health; and providing advice on adapting technical information and disseminating best practices.

Related Links: 

Mobile Phone Technology to Improve Family Planning in Malawi, MSH presentation given at the mHealth conference on May 5, 2010

Knowledge for Health Malawi