To quantify the disease burden in developing countries has always been a challenge as the data needed is often sparse and the quality of the data is difficult to assess. The lack of systematically collected data often hinders health care planning and the monitoring and evaluation of interventions.
In response to this challenge The Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research in Medecine Programme, together with its Malawian partners and the Foto-Cewek, developed SPINE: a surveillance programme of IN-patients and epidemiology which implements an electronic data-collection tool in a large referral hospital in southern Malawi. The first results of this programme have now been published in PLOS Medicine, volume 10 of March 2013 ( ).
This electronic surveillance system gathers morbidity and mortality data from adult patients. It collects individual demographic and clinical data from thousands of admissions thereby informing patient care, policy planning and research.
The publication describes the challenges of implementing the tool, emphasises the importance of training and sensitisation of the hospital staff involved, and highlights the positive impact electronic systems such as SPINE can have on health care planning and health care delivery as well as form a platform for clinical research.
Staff involved are now working to connect SPINE to laboratory services as well as generating a real-life outbreak alert system using geographical information technology.
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