Every cloud has a silver lining. Despite the COVID-19 imposed lockdowns on education, there has been opportunity for students and faculty members to engage more globally, as well as increased collaboration for research and practice.
This was well articulated in the presentation made by the Dr. Elsie Kiguli-Malwadde while delivering a presentation on the Impact of COVID-19 on Global Health Education at the BGHEI virtual Conference on November 10, 2021
Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde, the ACHEST Director of Health workforce Education and Development, noted that since March 2020 when WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, education across the world had been greatly disrupted with lockdowns, and global health education exchanges which play a big role were no longer possible due to the inability to travel. For instance, Uganda particularly has had the longest school closure globally, with higher education and health professionals’ education institutions intermittently opened and closed.
However, Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde observed that the pandemic has forced education as a whole to adopt technology and global health education has not been left behind.
“So global health education has adopted the use of digital platforms so that students and the faculty can engage remotely, including students in Low Middle Income Countries and Faculties in High-Income countries. We have taken advantage of platforms like Zoom, WebEx, WhatsApp, Microsoft teams and many others,” she said,
With the use of digital technologies which offer longer engagements, there has also been increased collaboration in the areas of research and practice.
“We have established new partnerships; some of the people we are collaborating with we have never even met because we could not travel. We are engaging over long periods of time, rather than the short travel periods for exchanges we used to use for students when they used to go to another country. So, the engagement is longer, using these platforms. This has enhanced mutual learning,” said Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde
She called for the need for educators to make evaluations on the impact of these digital advancements and use. This is giving us a chance to look at the lessons learned, what has been done, what we can improve and how to move forward. It is a time for reflection.
“So, there is silver lining behind every cloud. In the LMICs, there been an increase in the availability of internet, online and distance learning; availability of laptops and computers, because we have had to catch up, because of the pandemic. There a need to reevaluate this and look at what we have done, during this pandemic. Do we need to set aside what we used to do before or do we need to advance what we have now? Or is this going to become the new normal, doing global health differently and having student exchanges in a different manner- virtually,” she asked.
Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde who is also the Vice President of African Forum for Education and Research (AFREhealth) noted that the current innovations have further exposed some of the inequities in global health education. For instance, very few students were going to high income countries and vice versa due to the high costs. Now more students from the global north and global south are engaging virtually. There has also been some collaborative creation of learning materials that are being shared digitally between institutions and collaborative research where people have not met physically.
“I have seen this happen at AFREhealth where we did a multi collaborative research on COVID-19 at multiple sites in the region without having to meet,” she noted, adding “Educators have also shared their best practices on how to continue learning and mentorship. As educators we need to evaluate the consequences of this pandemic and be aware that there are many things that have changed, and are likely to even change more during the pandemic. There is a need to look at what the impact of these innovative programmes has been and what the future is going to look like.
She concluded up her presentation by highlighting the importance of interprofessional approach to global health. “We cannot continue working in silos,” she said.
She told the audience about the interprofessional elective programme that was run by the African Forum for Research and Education in Health (AFREHEALTH) and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER). The programme had initially been planned to run physically with student exchanges between sub-Saharan African countries. However, due to the pandemic, it had to be implemented virtually., with 27 faculties and 64 students participating for a period of 6 weeks. Students were from the various health professions comprising of nursing, medicine, pharmacy and laboratory. The programme used the digital platforms for synchronous and asynchronous engagement.
“We identified interprofessional education experts who came up with a template of the curriculum with case studies that were developed by the experts; and we signed some MOUs with the schools that applied to take part in this virtual programme,” Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde explained.
Although the report of the outcome is not yet out, the programme highlighted a south-to-south collaboration with virtual cost-effective delivery. Challenges included poor internet connectivity and access and competing activities as students and faculty were at home.
Dr. Kiguli-Malwadde’s presentation drew a lot of interest from the audience who wanted to know about more about the interprofessional approach in global health education.
Compiled by Carol Natukunda, Communications Specialist, ACHEST