How a new data tool is increasing access to health services for mothers and children

May 22, 2023 by Esther Nasikye

PATH's MNCHN Asset Tracker project is helping decision-makers and advocates to better use data to improve maternal and child health and save lives through evidence-based policy.

A health worker in Kenya holds a 7.1% chlorhexidine gel box. 7.1% chlorhexidine—one of the assets included in PATH’s MNCHN Asset Tracker project—is an antiseptic used to clean umbilical cords to help prevent newborn infections. Photo: PATH/Andrew Berends.

A health worker in Kenya holds a 7.1% chlorhexidine gel box. 7.1% chlorhexidine—one of the assets included in PATH’s MNCHN Asset Tracker project—is an antiseptic used to clean umbilical cords to help prevent newborn infections. Photo: PATH/Andrew Berends.

Data is often a critical missing piece, preventing further progress on maternal and child health. Too often data is not readily available to advocates and policymakers—leaving them without the information needed to best design policies, allocate resources, and ensure quality program implementation. Where data does exist, access to it can be restricted, quality control can be lacking, or those who need it are not aware of it. Even where available, decision-makers often do not have the tools to quickly access or analyze data, like through dashboard visualizations or trackers.

To bridge these gaps and explore what hinders scale-up and effective and equitable coverage of key maternal and child health interventions, PATH undertook an analysis of the access, uptake, implementation, and coverage of 14 key maternal, newborn, and child health and nutrition (MNCHN) commodities, tools, and approaches, or “assets.”

These insights are the core building blocks of our MNCHN Asset Tracker project. One part of this effort is a set of interactive dashboards, which leverage publicly available data to visualize the status of these interventions along the pathway to scale-up. The dashboards are a powerful tool that is helping decision-makers and advocates to better use data to make evidence-based policy.

Leveraging the Asset Tracker dashboards to expand access to MNCH services in Nigeria

To understand how the Asset Tracker dashboards can be used in a real-world setting, we spoke with Dr. Musa Muhammed Bello, a physician and health care practitioner with Bayero University and Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano, Nigeria, who has observed the Asset Tracker being used by advocates and policymakers alike.

Dr. Bello explained that Nigeria—like many other countries—often lacks access to accurate data to inform allocation of critical MNCHN resources like medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, providers, funding, and more. Although policymakers aim to equitably distribute health products and services to subnational health facilities across the country, gaps frequently exist between what is budgeted for at the national level and what is actually needed at service delivery points. Data resources like the Asset Tracker, Dr. Bello explained, can help bridge those gaps through simplifying the process of data collation, comparability, and use.

The end goal is for the Asset Tracker project is to offer a “one stop shop” for users like Dr. Bello to identify data sources to help better understand bottlenecks to scale up, and to inform policy development and implementation.

Advocating for evidence-based health policies

The Asset Tracker can be leveraged by many types of stakeholders—especially advocates calling for specific interventions to meet the needs of their community.

Within the Asset Tracker, advocates can access data for each of the assets on population coverage, availability, and further detail on the extent of policy adoption and implementation progress for each asset, as well as compare their country’s progress to other countries. PATH created a how-to guide to help advocates and decision-makers leverage this data to identify possible areas of focus and guide their advocacy for maximum impact.

Dr. Bello stresses that the Asset Tracker can be a powerful tool for advocates, but that there is a need for more widespread use to ensure advocates’ voices are heard by policymakers at the national and sub-national levels.

Disseminating the tool to local advocates in Kenya

Using tools like the Asset Tracker helps advocates make data-driven decisions to shape their advocacy goals, effectively communicate evidence-based information to decision-makers, and target interventions to where they are most needed. Such tools can have the biggest impact in improving MNCHN outcomes.

To ensure the Asset Tracker reached advocates who could benefit from it, PATH partnered with the Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA Kenya) to disseminate the Asset Tracker to advocates from civil service organizations (CSO) working in Kenya’s Lake Region Economic Bloc and train them in its use. Through two targeted training sessions, MeTA Kenya introduced the Asset Tracker, provided practical guides on navigating the data, and supported the CSO advocates in the development of advocacy action plans to utilize the Asset Tracker in support of their advocacy efforts.

The trained advocates have since leveraged the information within the Asset Tracker to identify gaps in high-quality service provision and access to lifesaving commodities, incorporate evidence from the data to strengthen their advocacy for increased budgetary allocations for MNCHN, and sensitize county health management teams on the data included in the Asset Tracker to help address critical systems strengthening issues.

Building on a multi-layered tool

Recognizing that the realities of access and barriers can differ within a country, PATH conducted subnational data assessments in nine geographies across Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Nigeria. Through interviews with providers and district health management team members, focus group discussions with community health workers, and inventory spot checks at facilities, PATH’s qualitative and quantitative subnational dashboards represent a snapshot in time for these geographies.

As we continue to refine the MNCHN Asset Tracker project, including by increasing the number of assets tracked later this year and seeking additional user inputs to improve the design of the dashboards, we hope that this tool and others like it continue to make the data-informed advocacy process easier for advocates, resulting in meaningful policy change and more equitable health services that ensure mothers, newborns, and children are not left behind.