Here is a submission on how to continue training health professionals during the COVID -19 imposed lock down. The author is Dr. Elsie Kiguli-Malwadde, Director, Health Workforce Education and Development at ACHEST.
E-Learning is the utilization of electronic technologies to access educational materials outside of the traditional classrooms. E- Learning has emerged as an important tool for Continuous Professional Development for health workers and students of health Professions’ institutions in the COVID Era.
Considering that health professions education institutions have been closed and face to face Continuous Professional Development (CPD) activities like global, regional and national conferences have been cancelled. Health professions have to adopt creative ways of sharing education materials. To this extent, creative strategies have to be adopted to ensure that learning continues despite the pandemic. There is also an urgent need to train health workers on COVID 19 and to keep them updated on its spread.
Currently global health has been threatened by the COVID 19 pandemic and Global Health Security has been challenged as the disease spreads across all continents. Many people have lost the state of complete physical wellness; fear has gripped the whole world, affecting the mental well-being of the populations. Our social well-being has been disrupted by various control measures including physical/social distancing, avoidance of hugs, no touching and wearing masks among others. In a bid to restrict gatherings and therefore keep people at home, schools and universities including health professions education institutions have been closed.
The Lancet Commission for Health Professionals for a New Century recommended transformative learning which is about developing leadership attributes with the purpose of producing enlightened change agents. It also recommended moving from isolated to harmonized education and health systems; from stand-alone institutions to networks, alliances, and consortia; and from inward-looking institutional preoccupations to harnessing global flows of educational content, teaching resources, and innovations. The COVID 19 pandemic has brought to light the need to implement these recommendations.
The use of ICT/digital/online learning for CPD on COVID -19 specifically has been adopted to a much greater extent than previously done. World Health Organisation (WHO) has been at the helm of this by producing training materials in several languages for health workers all over the world and providing materials and updates on the pandemic. WHO is also developing a Mobile Learning App for health workers. This App will include WHO/COVID-19 guidance, tools and training materials which are updated real-time in 6 languages. This highlights the need to go beyond classrooms or face-to-face meetings and conferences to utilizing new technologies to find and share information.
Health professionals in all countries have realized the need to mobilize knowledge and to engage in critical material appraisal so as to be able to filter what is beneficial and what is not. Huge numbers of webinars on COVID 19 have been conducted involving health professions worldwide. In some cases, conferences that were cancelled due to COVID 19 have been conducted online. Who would previously have thought of conducting a global conference online?
One of the under-recognized and enduring repercussions of the closure of training institutions and a move to digital training is the lack of clinical exposure which is critical for training of health professionals. This deficit will have a bearing on the production and quality of new health professionals in years to come. Efforts must be made to address this challenge.
Despite the challenges with ICT technologies and connectivity in Africa, the continent has not been left behind. Examples of interventions in Africa include: the Open educational resources Africa (OER) that has provided a unique opportunity to take advantage of digital learning and to make educational materials accessible. Their materials include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, assessments, software, tools, materials, and techniques used to support access to information. OER Africa which is accessible on line at https://oerafrica.org provides information on understanding OER, how to access OER and links to OER repositories in Africa. These resources can be used by academics, teachers, and learners. In the coming weeks, OER Africa will publish bi-weekly communications on OERs and their relevance within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Strengthening Inter-professional Education for HIV (STRIPE-HIV) a collaboration between the African Forum for Research and Education in Health (AFREhealth) AFREhealth and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) has also had to change its methods of operation. A team of Nursing and Medical Educators developed a training package focused on core clinical, public health, Inter-professional Education (IPE), and quality improvement (QI) domains related to HIV service delivery. The aim is to improve HIV care in the Sub-Saharan African region; using small group case based learning techniques. It targeted newly qualified health care professionals and those about to complete health professions training. This project is exploring innovative ways of delivering packages using an online workshop/team platform. Already, a module on COVID 19 has been added to the training package.
In conclusion, Health Professions Education and CPD for health workers like many aspects of life have changed during the COVID era. It has become more challenging but the professional community has responded with innovation, tenacity and resilience.
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