Implementing open source Health Information Systems in Low- and Middle Income Countries – a practical review

Speaker(s) : Claudio Zaugg

  • Language : English
  • Level : Newbie
  • Nature : Conference
  • Date : Wednesday 11 July 2012
  • Schedule : 09h20
  • Duration : 40 minutes
  • Place : Uni Mail R170


In any health care system, Health Information Systems (HIS) play a central role - not only in sharing and analyzing health outcomes, but in informing decision‐making. However, many countries (both high‐ and low‐ income) face difficulties in choosing the right products, standards and strategies to implement HIS and its subsystems. Additionally, countries with limited resources often also have a weaker ICT infrastructure, support capacity and a smaller choice of software providers. Different stakeholder requirements make system design, data analysis and reporting even more challenging. The study is looking at promoters and barriers on the example of various open source information systems assessed or introduced by the Swiss TPH in the frame of foreign aid projects mainly funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation. For example, the institute itself has invested in building‐up an information system for medical devices in more than four countries since 2009 which to date, supports the management of medical equipment in over 200 health facilities around the world. Furthermore, the Swiss TPH capitalizes on practical experience from the support of open source health management and information systems as well as telemedicine platforms. Generally, major success factors identified are political will, streamlined investments and actual eHealth implementation of central and local governments. Thereby, good governance is needed to avoid single‐vendor solutions and proprietary standards. Web‐based technology helped to overcome problems with client computer hardware, data handling and storage, and eases support and maintenance. Open source architecture and cross‐border development help establish a solid base for sustainable local software support. On the other hand, the experience also shows that open source solutions in low- and middle income contexts are often faced with difficulties in the fields of accountability, professionalism, local market player and a general public / private gap. Particularly because the question of preferring open source in this context cannot be answered generally, it is imperative to build on experience and good practice in order to avoid mistakes, make the best use of the resources, and bring innovation to the healthcare system.


Claudio Zaugg is a trained Biomedical Engineer with a Master’s degree in International Health (MIH). Before joining the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) he has worked for European biomedical research in international development projects. Since 2008 he is with the Swiss TPH and works as a Project Manager at the Health Technology and Telemedicine Unit of the Swiss Centre for International Health (SCIH). His unit is engaged in Health Technology planning- and assessment, physical resource management in health systems, and with Information and Communication Systems (ICTs) in resource constraint settings. Having designed, developed and introduced open source eHealth applications in both high- and low-income countries himself, he is a strong advocate for open and free software and the vast opportunities appropriate ICT applications are offering in today’s healthcare systems.

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