Success in Uganda
This week I start working on a project to help gather medical information in villages throughout Rwanda, so the project I’ve been working on for the past couple of months is officially over. I’ve written my postmortem and had a chance to recuperate from the travel (including the airline losing my baggage in London and a screaming three year old on an eight hour flight — horror stories best only hinted at). But this last project looks as if it was about as successful as I could hope for, so indulge me a few moments while I tell you what we did. While medical information is gathered throughout Uganda, reports are regularly written, and analysis is frequently done, sharing information between health care workers and officials is problematic. Until now, there was only one small central library at the Ministry of Health which held only a single stand-alone PC for accessing and reading electronic documents. To make matters worse, the proprietary software for storing and accessing the electronic documents only accepted PDFs, so anything a doctor wrote in, say, Microsoft Word had to be converted before it could be used in the system. With the help of the Knowledge Management (KM) team at IntraHealth, a few of us on the Informatics team put together a Joomla+KnowledgeTree combination that would allow health care workers and officials to upload any Office document, collaborate around them, and easily access them from any networked computer. My work centered on the integration and initial set up of the software — putting it all together in a way that made the KM people happy. And, frankly, much of that work isn’t any different than what I could be doing in almost any Tech Shop or corporate environment. And for a while, it was like any software project, full of frustrations and delays. While KnowledgeTree was an obviously mature piece of software, I found some of its idiosyncrasies irritating and some of its capabilities anemic. The real difference — the real satisfaction — came when I was finally able to sit down with the librarian at the Ministry of Health in Uganda and I heard him say “This is great, it is so much better and easier to than our current system! And we don’t have convert all our files to PDF first!” It was a relief to hear those words. Until then, doubt still lingered. But after that meeting, while there was still a lot of work to be done and a lot of work that I wouldn’t be able to complete, now I knew that we had a successful, even worthwhile, product. Even better, the technical people I worked with and trained as well as the Ministry workers all understood the usefulness and had the same goal in mind: fostering adoption of the new “electronic library” throughout Uganda. Now, back to the work. Hopefully I’ll have another success story in a few months.