Located in the Gulf of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe is a small island country with breathtaking natural scenery. The well-conserved biodiversity and captivating beaches have earned it the reputation of being a "hidden gem in Africa.". With much of its land being conserved as a national park, São Tomé has a relatively small but rapidly growing population of 200,000. For the economy, it mainly relies on cacao and palm oil exports, with a growing tourism industry. Despite having precious natural resources, the country is still regarded as one of the least developed countries in the world. Various challenges like climate change and limited economic resources have hindered robust development. Therefore, it is imperative to foster development to enhance the living standards of its people.
Just like many other countries, São Tomé was deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed some weaknesses in the health system of São Tomé. I am pleased to have the opportunity to join the Social and Health Unit at UNDP São Tomé and assist with some of the projects. Due to different constraints, health information was still stored in a paper-based system. Therefore, an open-source digital health information platform was adopted to bolster the effectiveness of the health system. UNDP assisted the government by sponsoring hardware like tablets and computers for data entry. Capacity building also played a significant role in these projects, with trainings and workshops conducted nationwide to educate healthcare professionals on the utilization and management of health information platforms. Thanks to these efforts, the country is gradually expanding the use of digital platforms to store health data.
The photo shows my participation in a 7-day joint supervision visit organized by UNDP, WHO, and other governmental entities. The purpose of the visit is to investigate how various programs are implemented at the user level. Because of that, I had the opportunity to visit almost all health centres in São Tomé. Surveys were conducted with health workers to grasp the situation regarding the daily input of health information into the system. Through these conversations with health workers, I gained an understanding of some developmental challenges. Even with the support from international parties, health workers still faced difficulties such as a personnel shortage, limited internet access, and lack of maintenance support. To address these challenges, UNDP maintains close cooperation with the national government and provides support according to their needs. This allows me to rethink that the setup of facilities is merely the starting point. Achieving true success requires continuous efforts to ensure the effectiveness of projects.
Despite knowing that development is never an easy task, it is still miraculous to witness the country developing step by step. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and learn in this progress.
Placement Site: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), São Tomé