Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
The Ministry of Health in Kenya envisions a future in which its 47 county health departments are connected to the internet through a health information network, its managers and workers are skillful contributors to the knowledge economy, and its national health database is warehousing essential information — from the cost of treatment to data on outpatient care to HIV trends.
That wish list is headed toward reality under AfyaInfo, the Abt Associates-led project to design an integrated web-based national health information system (NHIS). Separately in Kenya, Abt also is working on a health innovations project that focuses on low-income populations and on a food-safety initiative. The projects share a common goal: to improve the quality of life in Kenya.
A web-based information system is driving better health services management, policy, and care in Kenya, while a commitment to innovation is cultivating health care solutions — including a new insurance product — aimed at low-income residents.
The project for a web-based NHIS, an ambitious five-year program launched in 2011, advances the idea that a well-functioning health information system is critical for improving the quality and safety of patient care, health service delivery, and access to medical services. Abt’s work aims to ensure that the system is both sustainable and capable of increasing the availability, quality, and use of health data.
AfyaInfo puts an emphasis on developing structures — including in management learning and knowledge — that will continue to improve the use of information long after the project concludes.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with the government and its agencies to continue the evolution of the health system,” said Jim Setzer, Abt's senior technical adviser for the project. “We are helping the Ministry of Health provide ongoing software and infrastructure support needed to generate quality data for analysis and information sharing for stakeholders.”
Setzer said the scale of the effort is large: Kenya has 47 counties, 8,000 health facilities — both public and private — and more than 25,000 government health care employees.
AfyaInfo works with the government to modernize the NHIS by addressing capacity needs and strengthening the collection and use of data across the health sector. Among other things, the program aims to end redundancies in health care by channeling multiple —sometimes-competing — health information components into a single system. It also raises awareness of policy and legislation needed for a strong national health system.
While NHIS fine-tunes the foundation for a comprehensive health care system, another Abt program drills down to the needs of a specific demographic: low-income residents. The Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) project helps identify innovative health care solutions to address the challenges faced by Kenyans with limited resources.
During 2013, for example, the SHOPS team in Kenya worked with the CIC Insurance group to expand Afya Bora, a new health insurance product. Afya Bora targets low-income groups through savings and credit cooperatives and microfinance institutions.
SHOPS conducted market research on the viability of Afya Bora, developed a new sales and distribution strategy for the service, and contracted an advertising and marketing firm to design promotional materials. Print and radio ads were prepared in English and Kiswahili to announce the 2014 launch of Afya Bora.
In March 2013, SHOPS received support from USAID and the UK Department for International Development in launching the HANSHEP Health Enterprise Fund. The challenge fund identifies promising private-sector innovations focused on low-income populations in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Kenya, the fund named seven grant recipients whose health innovations showed potential for sustainability, scale, and replication. The winning enterprises ranged from health kiosks and mini-clinics to health insurance products and the production of low-cost sanitary pads. Grants ranged from $100,000 to $200,000. Unlike most challenge grants, the HANSHEP Health Enterprise Fund provides award winners with technical assistance in growing their businesses.
SHOPS brought the challenge fund winners together in June 2013 for a knowledge-sharing event in Nairobi. The day-long gathering featured panel discussions with investors, donors, and established health entrepreneurs. The finalists pitched their ideas to interested parties during the expo portion of the event and networked with fellow finalists.
Beyond strengthening the health care system, Abt Associates is also playing a pivotal role in food security in Kenya. Abt is evaluating the results of a pilot project that uses on-farm storage of maize to reduce post-harvest losses. Abt is monitoring the handling, transporting, and warehousing of the maize.
The pilot project was identified by AgResults, the $100 million food security initiative launched at the G20 Summit in 2012. AgResults spotlights agricultural innovations designed to make food safer and more plentiful.
Abt also is evaluating two other pilot projects in Africa identified by AgResults.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.