Transforming Vietnam’s Animal Health Information System
The COVID-19 pandemic, like swine flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) earlier this century, has reinforced the interconnection of the health of people, animals and ecosystems. But it’s one thing to see that human, animal and environmental health systems need to work together. It’s quite another for government officials to have a real-time, multisector disease reporting system.
In Vietnam, it has been four years since the launch of the Vietnam Animal Health Information System (VAHIS), an online disease reporting system designed to enable real-time reporting of animal diseases and zoonotic diseases (those that jump from animals to humans). It is an important tool to contain potential outbreaks of dangerous zoonotic diseases, such as avian flu. However, for a long time, VAHIS was rarely used and very few reports were being entered into the system.
Now, with support from USAID’s Infectious Disease Detection and Surveillance (IDDS) project to Vietnam’s Department of Animal Health (DAH) and regional and provincial animal health agencies, reporting rates into VAHIS have increased dramatically. In June 2020, the five IDDS-supported Vietnamese provinces started reporting, and by December 2021, all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces were successfully reporting disease outbreak data through VAHIS.
Improvements to VAHIS have been lauded by users and leaders of the animal health agencies in Vietnam. “The improvements of VAHIS have made the data entry and management process much smoother and easier, especially for provincial staff,” said Dang Van Hung, head of the Epidemiology Division at Regional Animal Health Office No. 4. “This helped to further increase reporting rates, timeliness and completeness of reported outbreak data, which are important for animal disease prevention and control in the regions.”
Previously, reporting was hampered by many issues in VAHIS. For example, data entry items, such as the number of dead animals, number of animals destroyed and total at-risk population, were not clearly defined and could be interpreted differently by different reporting staff. Also, some data requested from VAHIS were not available at the beginning of an outbreak or were unnecessarily repeated in daily update reports. Some users also claimed that they had issues exporting data they had entered into the system.
IDDS staff worked with each of the five project-supported provinces and the corresponding regional animal health offices (RAHOs) to make a detailed list of issues encountered by provincial and regional staff. The IDDS team worked with DAH technical staff and the responsible software engineer (supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Vietnam) to redesign the VAHIS software, improving functionality as well as the interface. After the listed issues were addressed, IDDS worked with users in the five provinces and RAHOs to evaluate the new system and identify any remaining issues.
The improved system allows users to choose between two modes of outbreak data entry: standard outbreak data entry (accommodating entry of more data items, when available) or quick outbreak data entry (with fewer data items requested, more convenient for daily updates). The improved dashboard has more advanced options for displaying maps, charts and summary data tables. The new system also allows users to search for data with multiple selection criteria and to copy and save maps and charts.
“With this improved version, VAHIS has become an excellent tool, allowing electronic data reporting to replace paper-based and email-based reporting methods,” said Hoang Manh Tien, technical officer and the focal person for VAHIS at the DAH Division of Veterinary Epidemiology.
After key VAHIS users at the provincial, regional and national levels were satisfied with the improvements, IDDS organized a pilot virtual training course to all users in the five supported provinces in November 2021. VAHIS has obtained accurate and complete animal disease data in a timely manner from the five provinces. In the last three months of 2021, the five provinces used VAHIS to report 92 animal disease outbreaks, including zoonotic diseases.
IDDS also collected additional feedback from users in each province through monthly technical meetings on VAHIS use and reporting. The feedback from users in the five pilot provinces helped DAH to further refine the system design and training materials, which were later used by RAHOs to train VAHIS users in all the other provinces in the country on new features of the improved system.
“So far, most provinces in the country have been reporting animal disease data through VAHIS,” added Hoang Manh Tien. “These have helped leaders and technical personnel in the animal health system to have timely access to up-to-date information on disease outbreaks. The use of VAHIS has reduced time needed for compiling disease data, and this is an important step toward digitalization of governing in the animal health sector.”
Improving systems like VAHIS is part of IDDS’s One Health approach, which brings together experts from sectors such as global health, agriculture and the environment to avert disease outbreaks.
“We can only prevent future pandemics with an integrated One Health approach to public health, animal health and the environment we share,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last year. “Approximately 70% of all emerging and re-emerging pathogens are zoonotic, and we don’t know when the next threat — the next disease X — will emerge.”
ICF leads the IDDS project with a consortium of organizations. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of USAID or the U.S. government.