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Information management practices in the WHO African Region to support response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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The rapid transmissibility of the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 causing coronavirus disease-2019, requires timely dissemination of information and public health responses, with all 47 countries of the WHO African Region simultaneously facing significant risk, in contrast to the usual highly localised infectious disease outbreaks. This demanded a different approach to information management and an adaptive information strategy was implemented, focusing on data collection and management, reporting and analysis at the national and regional levels. This approach used frugal innovation, building on tools and technologies that are commonly used, and well understood; as well as developing simple, practical, highly functional and agile solutions that could be rapidly and remotely implemented, and flexible enough to be recalibrated and adapted as required. While the approach was successful in its aim of allowing the WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO) to gather surveillance and epidemiological data, several challenges were encountered that affected timeliness and quality of data captured and reported by the member states, showing that strengthening data systems and digital capacity, and encouraging openness and data sharing are an important component of health system strengthening.