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Improving access to health information to respond to Ebola crises


The highly-contagious Ebola virus has the potential of spreading regionally and internationally and could have serious impacts on health, livelihoods, and local economies. This project aims to improve understanding of how routine health information can inform the ongoing and long-term response and recovery from the current Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The challenge

The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone claimed thousands of lives and cost these countries at least US$2 billion in lost gross domestic product. Poor data is one of the major challenges to mounting a successful response to Ebola outbreaks.

To improve resilience and prevent outbreaks in other humanitarian settings, it is important to understand the role of existing data and information systems in order to strengthen health systems. Routine data systems have shown promise in controlling outbreaks and played a critical role in the prompt containment of the outbreak in Uganda. In the aftermath of both the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, greater sharing of core data on health and health-seeking behaviour has been emphasized.

The project

Led by a joint Canadian-Congolese research team and supported by additional international researchers and practitioners, this project features strong multidisciplinary expertise in health systems, epidemiology, data science, anthropology, and public health, as well as substantial experience dealing with the Ebola virus itself.

The project will use existing data to assess the state of health system responses to outbreaks like Ebola before, during, and after the outbreak in affected and non-affected areas. The second phase will primarily use qualitative methods to explore how the routine health information system was used by a range of stakeholders, including frontline health workers, during the outbreak.

The impact

This project will develop a better understanding of how routine health information on key health system measures can inform the ongoing and long-term response to the current Ebola crisis in the DRC and to develop tools to further allow such data to be used in future public health crises.

Research findings will help inform the ongoing response and provide broad lessons that will be valuable in mitigating the threat of future epidemics or other public health emergencies in the DRC and other low and middle-income countries.

In addition, this research aims to:

  • Learn more about the impact of the outbreak on the use of health services and health system performance in both affected and non-affected areas of the DRC;
  • Understand the facilitators and barriers to health system performance that may be relevant to future outbreaks or other public health emergencies in the DRC and in other international contexts;
  • Highlight the data (e.g., routine, surveys, patient databases, chart reviews, qualitative tools) used to monitor health system performance in affected and non-affected parts of the DRC during the Ebola outbreak to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses in the context of the emergency response; and
  • Improve integration of routine data systems into future public health emergencies.