Training frontline healthcare workers in developing countries can be fraught with challenges. Often operating in remote areas with little or no access to the Internet makes gaining access to the latest medical knowledge and healthcare training extremely difficult. However, innovative distance and blended learning programmes are now harnessing ICTs and digital media to overcome this problem, dramatically improving the training opportunities for health workers and, in turn, the healthcare for the communities in which they serve.
By Jessamine Brown
One such project that is utilising mobile technology and ICT to train health workers is the distance learning programme implemented by the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) in Uganda. The programme targets healthcare workers and other stakeholders whose work focuses on the management and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases throughout Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa.
Trainees on distance learning courses at the IDI are often operating in environments where there is little or no access to fast, reliable Internet. The IDI was therefore compelled to come up with a novel solution that required only basic technology but would continue to meet the learning needs of their trainees, while minimising disruption to their work.
The answer was a combination of technologies, including open source software and SMS. These technologies support the entire training experience, from initial presentation and delivery to concurrent support and final follow-up.
The technologies used include an offline virtual learning environment that is pre-loaded onto a USB flash drive. Workers in rural areas without Internet can therefore participate in courses as long as they have a flash drive and computer. Phones are also used. Through calling a toll-free number that reaches the AIDS Treatment Information Centre (ATIC), healthcare workers can receive immediate advice on treating infectious diseases. Finally, to follow up on the training, the IDI utilises SMS. By sending trainees quiz questions, the IDI can ascertain their retention of knowledge acquired during training.
The project has proved a success with hundreds of healthcare workers making use of the technology over the past five years. Not only are healthcare workers better prepared, the training has re-framed the way the IDI and its stakeholders use eLearning to complement its traditional classroom-based education.
A similar initiative that operates on a larger scale is that run by Health[e] Foundation, an organisation which has taken up the challenge to provide healthcare and community workers in the parts of the world most deprived of resources, with access to up-to-date knowledge through blended learning.
The foundation provides sustainable tailor-made training programmes using a mix of face-to-face workshops and eLearning via USB stick and Internet. It has also developed an eLearning application, which can be used on android tablets and smartphones. As courses can be done online and offline, it facilitates learning in even the most remote of areas.
By using eLearning, participants are able to study at their own time and pace, without taking time away from their clinics. Feedback on their progress comes from e-tutor support and onsite training, and they are also given lifelong access to evidence-based information. With 16 programmes in 11 different languages, Health[e] Foundation trained approximately 7,000 participants last year, subsequently improving the quality of care for thousands of patients and communities.
Both the distance learning initiatives run by the Infectious Diseases Institute and Health[e] Foundation will be discussed in detail at the eLearning Africa conference, taking place on May 20 -22 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Image: Health[e]Foundation Twitter