The AEN’s role in information sharing, networking and capacity support converged through ZeipNET’s work in Zimbabwe over the last three years

by Ronald Munatsi

Funders can play an important role in advancing EIDM

The Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) was founded in the same year as the Africa Evidence Network (AEN). Both networks were first funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) under the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE)  programme in 2013.

The BCURE Project brought together ZeipNET, the AEN, and the Human Science Research Council (South Africa) as a consortium under the VakaYiko project. The EIDM concept was relatively new and as an organisation, we realised that we had ventured into a sector that we did not even quite understand but the indicated partnerships greatly helped in manoeuvring the complex EIDM Landscape.

As part of the BCURE project, ZeipNET focused mostly on building individual skills of policymakers and integrated parallel strands of institutional capacity strengthening. This was coupled with an underlying objective of strengthening the wider national institutional evidence infrastructure to support EIDM in the country.

The AEN Road show put EIDM on the radar

The collaboration with AEN helped a lot in transforming ZeipNET in terms of institutional capacity and growth. It also contributed to my professional development as the Director.  The collaboration enabled us to expand our networks and brought more value to our EIDM work in Zimbabwe.

As part of its road shows in February 2016, the AEN supported and collaborated with ZeipNET in a stakeholder engagement policy dialogue aimed at building the Zimbabwean institutional landscape to support EIDM. The event attracted policymakers, researchers, academics, civil society and the media.

ZeipNET had generated a lot of interest around evidence and policy through its work with Parliament and government ministries including previous knowledge café’s and policy dialogues so these stakeholders wanted to know more about the concept and also be part of the evidence and policy engagement.

The event expanded ZeipNET’s institutional membership and also links to individual experts and researchers that we engage and work with until now. To note a couple of examples, we have gone on to partner with institutions like the Department of (Agriculture) Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS) and the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences in the GODAN Action Open Data Programme and the  Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (AHPSR) supported ‘Embedding Rapid Reviews in Health Systems Decision Making in Zimbabwe (ERAZ) projects respectively.

ERAZ project is institutionalised by the Ministry of Health & Child Care (MoHCC) in Zimbabwe

The AEN’s role in information sharing, networking and capacity support converged through ZeipNET’s work in Zimbabwe over the last three years. As the BCURE programme was drawing to a close, we  came across a grant call for from AHPSR on the AEN Website. This call required proposals to embed rapid evidence synthesis platforms in health ministries in low and middle income countries.  

Coincidentally, my colleague at ZeipNET had previously attended a workshop on Rapid Reviews at Makerere University Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews during the BCURE project where Dr Rhona Mijumbi was lead facilitator. The knowledge and skills gained from the workshop was extremely useful in responding to the call and in implementing the project. Our application was successful and the subsequent project, ‘Embedding Rapid Reviews in Health Systems Decision Making in Zimbabwe (ERAZ)’,

Some of the Evidence Products produced include the National Health Insurance Rapid Review that informed the National Health Insurance Bill currently being crafted, the National Health Accounts Policy Brief being used by the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Health. This is in addition to the Rapid Review on Factors Affecting Uptake of HIV Self Testing in Zimbabwe. The rapid review informed the Zimbabwe National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan 2021-2025. 

Dr. Mijumbi and her colleagues at ACRES assisted immensely in capacity development programmes for the platform.   The AEN also supported the platform in training developing Evidence Maps. ERAZ resulted in the institutionalisation of an evidence synthesis platform in the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Care. It is now part of the Ministry under its Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Department.

COVID-19 seals the value of rapid responses as MoHCC extends partnership with ZeipNET
What made the most impact because of the ERAZ Platform were some of the COVID-19 evidence briefs that we developed. These demonstrated the relevance of the platform in real time. We managed to produce two rapid evidence briefs that informed the policies for mandatory institutional quarantine for returnees and the mandatory wearing of facemasks in public places.

The platform also developed the country’s national health guidelines on self and mandatory institutional quarantine. As a result, the visibility, recognition and credibility of ZeipNET has greatly improved especially among policymakers and other stakeholders in the health sector. It is now a platform that is officially recognized and receiving a budget from the Ministry. The Ministry has even extended its MoU with ZeipNET which was project-based for a more sustainable partnership.

In a nutshell…

The value of creating or joining EIDM focuses networks cannot be overemphasised if tangible and sustainable impact is to be realised in the African health sector. Collaborations with like-minded organisations can result into pooling together resources including technical expertise targeted at EIDM gaps such as those in health policy. The result of such partnerships also builds the credibility of organisations such as ZeipNET.

Ronald Munatsi is the director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET). He has experience in Evidence Literacy and Knowledge Management including Capacity Building. He has previously worked as a senior civil servant in government and the Parliament of Zimbabwe as a knowledge management specialist.

Ronald Munatsi, director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET)
~ Ronald Munatsi, director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET)