By Marty Logan
Do you know if midwife services are available at the Saupia Health Centre in Paunangisu, on the island of Efate in Vanuatu, in the Pacific Islands? I do, and I’ve never been within 1,000 kilometres of the facility — I found the information online within seconds thanks to a data platform called Tupaia.
Developed in 2017 as a system for tracking items on the extremely lengthy supply chains of health materials in the Pacific Islands, today Tupaia is aggregating data about health, education and the environment from a number of unrelated sources, analysing it, and presenting it in an interactive online map.
“You can look at the national level and see how many people have accessed health services within a specified time frame or you can zoom into a province or a district and see more specifically details about where there are maybe gaps to people accessing the health system, or where people are doing really well, and that allows a country to set up different responses”
“If you want to see how many people a country has had in respect to a Covid outbreak, or a dengue outbreak, that sort of information will be displayed in Tupaia,” says Erin Nunan, director of Beyond Essential Services, the company that created the platform.
“You can look at the national level and see how many people have accessed health services within a specified time frame or you can zoom into a province or a district and see more specifically details about where there are maybe gaps to people accessing the health system, or where people are doing really well, and that allows a country to set up different responses,” adds Nunan in a video interview ahead of the Small Islands States (SIDS) Solutions Forum taking place online and in person 30-31 August 2021.
Tupaia is one of the innovations being featured at the event, which aims to kickstart SIDS’ efforts to reach the global development goals by 2030. Organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in partnership with the UN International Telecommunications Union and co-hosted by the Government of Fiji, the forum gathers representatives of the 38 SIDS worldwide, UN agencies and civil society.
The economies of many SIDS have been battered by COVID-19 restrictions, which have smothered the key tourist trade. Many were also already struggling with monumental challenges like rising sea levels and growing numbers of extreme weather events as a result of climate change. The forum, which ends Tuesday, is meant to “incubate, promote and scale-up home-grown and imported solutions to accelerate the achievement of the agriculture, food and nutrition related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says the website.
The makers of Tupaia believe that the platform has moved countries closer to the targets for SDG3 (health and well-being), SDG6 (water and sanitation for all) and SDG 17 (strengthen implementation and partnership for sustainable development). Their company, Beyond Essential Systems, has also released Tamanu, a medical records system.
Today, Tupaia operates in six Pacific Island countries, and beyond, collecting data in real time from nearly 800 facilities using a variety of sources including its own app, MediTrak, and creating visualisations that health systems, workers and even patients can use for decision-making. In Fiji, it is helping to track Covid-19 swab samples.
Open source and free, thanks to funding from the Government of Australia and others, Tupaia’s data collection, management, and visualization tools can also be used to collect environmental data to manage resources such as water stations and for disaster response. In Papua New Guinea, the platform is used to track the incidence of malaria.
“It might be a nurse in a clinic, it might be an administrator in a single province, those are the people that we really consider to be the customers of the software, the actual end users,” says Michael Nunan, CEO of Beyond Essential Systems, in another video interview for the SIDS Solutions Forum.
For example, in 2018 an order for cold chain medicines for the island of Kiribati was delayed. As a result, a busy facility ran out of several items, including insulin and Hepatitis B vaccine. But the facility nurse was able to log on to Tupaia and instantly see which nearby facilities had a functioning fridge and stock of the needed medicines. She contacted one of them and was able to organise a quick delivery of stock so there was little interruption to patient care.
Named after a Polynesian navigator who joined the crew of Captain James Cook in 1769, Tupaia takes data that is often siloed in specialised software designed for specific purposes and integrates it in dashboards that are customisable for a variety of user groups.
Tupaia’s data sources, supply chain software for vaccines and other medicines, health information software, and data collection applications, deliver information about health infrastructure including cold-chain, critical medical equipment, staff, and service provision.
“Whatever it is you want to do with data, whether it’s data collection, data aggregation, analysis, visualisation, or dissemination, we want you to be able to do that with Tupaia,” says Michael Nunan in the video interview.