Less than a decade after emerging from a violent war, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is slowly moving toward stability. A hopeful sign of change in the central African country is its work on rebuilding the health system, including its response to HIV/AIDS.
In the DRC, PATH leads a consortium of partners who are working to reduce transmission of HIV, deliver integrated care and services for people affected by HIV/AIDS, and build up the country’s health system to expand and improve services. The project is known as ProVIC, and is funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US Agency for International Development. Like other projects funded by the US government, it has the US Congress to answer to.
Monitoring and evaluating
Anh Thu Hoang is a PATH adviser in global health monitoring and evaluation, or “M&E.” She’s helping the ProVIC partners learn to gather meaningful data and interpret it, both to fulfill their obligations under PEPFAR and to improve services in their communities. Thu is based at PATH’s office in Washington, DC, but she also spends time in the DRC, traveling between the five regions in which ProVIC works.
“It seems natural to me that you want to monitor and track your project activities and implementation processes,” Thu says. “You want to know if things are going as anticipated or planned. And if not, you want to know why so you can make changes to make the process more effective.”
Learning from each other
In a country that’s still emerging from war—and still subject to periods of instability, especially in the eastern areas where ProVIC is working—training and coaching staff and local partners can be daunting. They must learn what kind of data to collect, how to collect it, and how to use it to improve programming. Any training program must take into account not only how to effectively teach those skills, but also how to sustain training over time.
In May, PATH introduced a pilot project to selected ProVIC partners that encourages them to learn from each other. The partners take part in an introductory workshop and complete a three-month work plan. Then, by holding ongoing discussions and shadowing one another on the job, they continue to learn better data-collection practices and troubleshoot issues they encounter in the field. Partners depend not on PATH but on each other, mutually learning from shared experiences, challenges, and best practices along the way.
One organization may be stronger in collecting data, Thu says. Another might excel at programming. They exchange information, and both have the potential to improve in ways that will benefit them beyond M&E—and even beyond ProVIC. In just a few months, Thu says, the techniques have helped partners who are piloting the project in Kinshasa quickly and inexpensively improve M&E practices.
So far, ProVIC has reached more than a million people in the DRC with messages about preventing HIV. It’s an impressive number—and one we know, Thu might point out, thanks to M&E.