Optimum hardware, software and personnel requirements for a paperless health and demographic surveillance system: a case study of Cross River HDSS, Nigeria

Iwara Arikpo, Ideba Mboto, Anthony Okoro, Unyimeabasi James, Ememobong Aquaisua, Kalu Osonwa, Michael Ushie, Ekaette Enang, Ekpereonne Esu, Ime Asangasi, Martin Meremikwu


Health and Demographic Surveillance Systems (HDSS) are a robust and rigorous data collection, validation, storage, analysis and reporting platforms for community-based data on vital events. These processes make high demands on paper and man-hours with attendant implications on running costs and environmental impact. However, with the rapid development of ICT and increasing affordability of computing devices, some of the manual processes can be replaced with ICT tools. This paper presents a case study of the Cross River HDSS in Akpabuyo Southern Nigeria with a view to highlighting the essential personnel, hardware and software requirements for running an IT-based paperless HDSS in low income settings. The DSA comprised of 22 contiguous EAs of 1370 households. The case study entailed four update rounds, each of which involved field workers visiting households and obtaining information on vital events. The first update round was purely paper-based involving the use of large collections of paper forms for interviews. The last three rounds were IT-based, devoid of paper questionnaires and ran on web-based open source software. Hardware was a set of high-end servers, desktops, tablet PCs and android phones for data collection.


The case study demonstrated the feasibility of running a paperless IT-based HDSS in a resource-poor setting using free and open source software, such as the web-based OpenHDS, MySQL, ODK, MirthConnect, etc. This overcomes the limitations of the popular HRS2 in terms of costs, complexities, and lack of compatibility with changing hardware and system software configurations. However, running IT-based paperless HDSS threw up some challenges, such as cases of poor internet connectivity, absence of GSM network connectivity using mobile devices, and having the right mix of staff with sufficient IT skills. This paper recommended solution strategies for overcoming these challenges. The need for the development of new set of protocols for data quality in a paperless HDSS is also discussed.


Keywords: Health, demographic surveillance system, information technology, paper, environment, enumeration area


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