By means of data analytics and visualisation, PATH, an NGO leader in global health innovation and Tableau Foundation, a Seattle-based health IT expert, have teamed up in the campaign ‘Visualize No Malaria’. The goal is to end the infectious disease in Zambia by 2020. Insights has spoken to both partners and did not just find out the hidden story behind the initiative’s success, but also why technologies like these could benefit in a broad range of global health concerns.
Born as an idea in Seattle during a coffee shop conversation, the initiative named ‘Visualize No Malaria’ has evolved into one of the world’s biggest partially statefunded health IT programmes running in Zambia, Africa. "Our goal was and is to actually eradicate malaria across the entire African country," says Neal Myrick, Director of Social Impact at Tableau and Head of the Tableau Foundation, looking back at the programme launch in 2015 when the disease had already been reduced from a raging fire to a burning ember. "The last step required us to test, track and treat the 80% of infected, but asymptomatic people by means of data and data visualisation," Myrick comments.
To achieve its targets, goal analytics and visual technologies have been set up to pipe real-time reporting of new cases into visualisations that allow ministry officials to deploy health resources to the right places at the right time. Neither PATH nor Tableau would have stemmed this huge task alone they believe. By involving Zambia’s Ministry of Health, a front-runner in malaria control, to a large extent and also resourcing help from the National Malaria Control Centre in Zambia, the initiative went beyond data collecting and sharing for analysis, and even installed a full feedback loop to flow back data results to Zambia’s frontline health workers effectively. "Over a period of two years we could enable users to receive performance management inputs, weekly updates on the number of reported cases in their area, text messages if their reports are complete and even insights where they might expect to find flaring up break outs of malaria," Jeff Bernson, Director at PATH for Malaria Monitoring and Evaluation, tells Insights.
Working with the Ministry, sourcing public health data
However, obstacles had to be overcome when starting off with the ambitious objective: "One big challenge was collaborative design, namely building visualisations with the Ministry instead of for them," Myrick says. Two dozen Tableau power users plus a team from PATH built prototypes of dashboards assumed to be most effective. The group even flew to Zambia for a series of workshops with the Ministry: "We tweaked everything from analytical frameworks over mapping strategies to dashboard layout," Myrick continues.
This eye for detail paid off, not least because of the data sourcing...
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