National assessment of data quality and associated systems-level factors in Malawi

Richael O’Hagan, Melissa A. Marx, Karen E. Finnegan, Patrick Naphini, Kumbukani Ng’ambi, Kingsley Laija, Emily Wilson, Lois Park, Sautso Wachepa, Joseph Smith, Lewis Gombwa, Amos Misomali, Tiope Mleme, Simeon Yosefe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Routine health data can guide health systems improvements, but poor quality of these data hinders use. To address concerns about data quality in Malawi, the Ministry of Health and National Statistical Office conducted a data quality assessment (DQA) in July 2016 to identify systems-level factors that could be improved. Methods: We used 2-stage stratified random sampling methods to select health centers and hospitals under Ministry of Health auspices, included those managed by faith-based entities, for this DQA. Dispensaries, village clinics, police and military facilities, tertiary-level hospitals, and private facilities were excluded. We reviewed client registers and monthly reports to verify availability, completeness, and accuracy of data in 4 service areas: antenatal care (ANC), family planning, HIV testing and counseling, and acute respiratory infection (ARI). We also conducted interviews with facility and district personnel to assess health management information system (HMIS) functioning and systems-level factors that may be associated with data quality. We compared systems and quality factors by facility characteristics using 2-sample t tests with Welch’s approximation, and calculated verification ratios comparing total entries in registers to totals from summarized reports. Results: We selected 16 hospitals (of 113 total in Malawi), 90 health centers (of 466), and 16 district health offices (of 28) in 16 of Malawi’s 28 districts. Nearly all registers were available and complete in health centers and district hospitals, but data quality varied across service areas; median verification ratios comparing register and report totals at health centers ranged from 0.78 (interquartile range [IQR]: 0.25, 1.07) for ARI and 0.99 (IQR: 0.82, 1.36) for family planning to 1.00 (IQR: 0.96, 1.00) for HIV testing and counseling and 1.00 (IQR: 0.80, 1.23) for ANC. More than half (60%) of facilities reported receiving a documented supervisory visit for HMIS in the prior 6 months. A recent supervision visit was associated with better availability of data (P=.05), but regular district- or central-level supervision was not. Use of data by the facility to track performance toward targets was associated with both improved availability (P=.04) and completeness of data (P=.02). Half of facilities had a full-time statistical clerk, but their presence did not improve the availability or completeness of data (P=.39 and P=.69, respectively). Conclusion: Findings indicate both strengths and weaknesses in Malawi’s HMIS performance, with key weaknesses including infrequent data quality checks and unreliable supervision. Efforts to strengthen HMIS in low- and middle-income countries should be informed by similar assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-381
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Health Science and Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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