Evidence Platforms to Strengthen Kenya’s Health Systems at National and County Levels in the Post-COVID-19 Era
30 August 2021
Author: Dr. Leyla Abdullahi, Lilian Mayieka and Carol Mukiira
The community is a key stakeholder in community-based initiatives in public health. The combination of community education and community ownership in a process leads to improvement in public health initiatives. Photo: Trevor Snapp/IntraHealth International

Through the Heightening Institutional Capacity for Government Use of Health Research (HIGH-Res) project,  AFIDEP has been working with the  Ministry of Health (MoH) and key health stakeholders including the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) to strengthen institutional capacity for use of evidence in decision-making

On 8-10 June 2021, HIGH-Res joined research scientists, health professionals and partners from academia, policy and health industry at the 11th KEMRI Annual Scientific and Health (KASH) virtual conference.

With theme ‘Strengthening Health Systems in Kenya through Research, Pandemic Preparedness, Technology and Innovations in the post COVID-19 era,’ KASH conference provided an opportunity for sharing, cross learning and mentoring of young scientists as well as a platform to discuss current health challenges in Kenya.

AFIDEP’s participation at the KASH Conference through the HIGH-Res project featured a number of strategic activities to advance efforts to institutionalize capacity for Evidence-Informed Decision-Making (EIDM) and maximize impact in the health sector.

Facilitating conference participation by partners, including MoH and KEMRI
HIGH-Res project supported 26 Technical Working Group (TWG) focal persons from MoH to participate in the conference. Six of them were research focal persons while four were county staff who presented at the conference. Further, the HIGH-Res team packaged summaries of evidence discussed at the conference inorder to inform the work of TWGs/programmes/divisions – both at the national and county levels.

Key messages from the presentations by the county evidence champions were:

  1. The recipe for implementing best practices in Health Service Management at a health facility in Kenya involves:
    1. Identification of a problem
    2. In-depth understanding of the problem from stakeholders including clients/patients and service providers
    3. Willing staff and team spirit towards defining strategies to solve the problem
    4. Process ownership by the entire service delivery team
    5. Continuous monitoring of how well the local solution is delivering the intended results
  2. That the community is a key stakeholder in community-based initiatives in public health. The combination of community education and community ownership in a process leads to improvement in public health initiatives.

Research, Innovation critical to pandemic preparedness
In his keynote speech at the KASH conference, AFIDEP’s Executive Director, Dr. Eliya Zulu noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had put Kenya’s compromised health care system to the test, and had clearly demonstrated the central place of research and innovation.

Dr. Zulu emphasised that pandemic preparedness should be treated as a national security issue and an economic threat, and so adequate investments should be prioritized. “Political leadership in Kenya and Africa at large needs to provide for clear and well-funded structures for pandemic preparedness, working with the Ministry of health at national and county levels,” Dr. Zulu said. He further called for pandemic preparedness strategies informed by lessons from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “These strategies should provide evidence-based guidance on prevention, detection, containment and response, and should put vulnerable groups at the centre of these efforts,” he said.

Official launch of Cochrane Kenya
Cochrane Kenya, a global independent network that gathers and summarizes the best evidence from research to enhance health knowledge and decision-making was officially launched on 8 June 2021 at the KASH conference.

The Cochrane knowledge platform spans 25 years providing high quality research evidence to inform decision-making in health and has a number of entity/affiliate/ centres established in various countries globally. Kenya is  the 4th country to have a Cochrane affiliate in Africa and follows South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon.

The establishment of Cochrane Kenya is geared towards the improvement of health where decisions about health and healthcare are informed by high quality, relevant and up-to-date synthesized research evidence. The HIGH-Res project has contributed to the establishment of Cochrane Kenya through its activities with the KEMRI Knowledge Management Unit, involvement in the strategy development for Cochrane Kenya as well as the planning for the formal launch of Cochrane.

An engaging knowledge management symposium
On 9 June 2021, AFIDEP hosted an evidence symposium titled ‘Building Resilient Health Systems: Tapping into Research Evidence to Support National Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic.’  The symposium built on the launch of Cochrane Kenya with conversations focusing on how the entity can play a role in institutionalising EIDM in the country.

The symposium featured a panel discussion on the role of evidence in COVID-19 pandemic decision-making, facilitators and challenges in the process of evidence generation, synthesis and utilization. The session was moderated by Dr. Rose Oronje, Director of Public Policy and Communications at AFIDEP.

Several existing knowledge translation platforms/structures and efforts were discussed including the Ministry of Health’s Kenya Health Research Observatory (KHRO); KEMRI’s utafiti wafya dashboard; KEMRI’s community engagement programme; AFIDEP’s evidence informed decision-making capacity building work including HIGH-Res programme; the newly launched Cochrane Kenya at KEMRI; the Center for Epidemiological Modelling and CDC Analysis (CEMA) at the University of Nairobi; plans to establish an in-house Rapid Response Services at the Ministry of Health; and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collaborative at KEMRI.

Discussions during the symposium revealed the need for:

  • Increased awareness of the range of knowledge translation structures
  • Recognition of the need to coordinate the range of knowledge translation structures. AFIDEP was suggested as a facilitator of this process alongside the MoH Research Division.
  • Commitment by stakeholders (MoH, KEMRI, University of Nairobi and AFIDEP) to progress conversation on how best to collaborate to ensure that the knowledge management efforts within the health sector are well coordinated. A working group to look into this process was mooted.

Prof. Jennifer Orwa Deputy Director, Resource Development and Knowledge Management at KEMRI called for AFIDEP to coordinate the range of knowledge translation structures, efforts and plans in Kenya to enhance institutions working together to produce quality research and ensuring no duplication at both the national and county levels.

Evidence products following partners’ participations
HIGH-Res partners in Kenya and focal persons within MoH-TWGs participated in different session at the conference with the end goal of preparing evidence briefs from the key research results discussed at the conference and their implications for MoH’s decision-making. The evidence briefs would inform the work of stakeholders – TWG/Secretariat/Division/Programme managers.

Four evidence briefs have been prepared highlighting implications of the evidence presented during the KASH conference and center around the following :

  • Knowledge Management Platforms in Kenya – a summary of what is already in existence
  • Identified best practices – presented as case studies from the abstracts presented
  • Innovative approaches in strengthening public health system for integrated Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) management in Kenya
  • Cross-border interventions for COVID-19 control

Post-KASH conference webinar
Following the conference, MoH in collaboration with KEMRI and AFIDEP hosted an interactive webinar on 15 July 2021 to share highlights of the conference. This was achieved through a summary presentation highlighting the key research results from the KASH conference and their implications for health sector decision-making.

The webinar session was coordinated by Dr. Charles Nzioka, Director of Health Policy, Research and Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Health and moderated by Dr. Rose Oronje, Director of Public Policy and Communications at AFIDEP. The interactive session convened relevant health sector policymakers, implementers, researchers and professionals.



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