Health professional networks: a world of possibilities

Among the most effective models for collaboration is a “network,” a forum, information clearing house and vehicle to promote collective, bilateral and individual action within a group. The African Health Observatory (AHO) helps health professional networks and communities of practice in the Region to go online and enhance their results.

EVIPNet team from African countries at a Regional meeting held in Brazzaville, the Congo, in December 2012.                                                                         WHO/AFRO

Mechanisms for optimizing the strengths and skills of health professionals and decision makers will be essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and beyond. The network model encourages communication, cooperation, knowledge sharing and coordinated action while optimizing flexibility, participation and creativity.

Through networks it is possible to maximize the contributions of health professionals, policy and decision makers by means of interprofessional education and collaborative practice; as well as linking the different stakeholders worldwide through virtual communities of practice so they can share effective policies and promote successful practices.

Health researchers, senior officials and professionals in the African Region often work under difficult conditions. Lack of evidence based information, lack of communication between public health institutions in the Region, absence of a forum or mechanisms that bring stakeholders together to share information, difficulties of translating evidence, knowledge and research findings into public health actions are common constraints.

AHO networks
Networks, and especially online-based networks, can help to fill most of these gaps. Therefore, AHO is establishing networking capabilities by using online tools and conferencing facilities to assist the creation and support communities of practice and virtual networks.

In the networks section of the AHO Portal there is a virtual space with several technical tools to support collaboration, information exchange, shared content work and instant messaging. For example, at the AHO networks section it is possible to raise questions, vote for an ongoing poll, share documents and participate in discussions, etc.

AHO networks tools are useful for:

  •  Collaborative work;
  • Sharing information;
  • Building and sharing evidence and knowledge;
  • Exchanging information and opinion between peers;
  • Brainstorming;
  • Planning and advertising events;
  • Being up to date;
  • Organizing online events;
  • Making projects visible;
  • Weaving a community;
  • Enabling diverse perspectives;
  • Coordinating resources and action;
  • Promoting and facilitating the use of evidence for policy and decision in health.

From the ground to the virtual space
A number of networks are already hosted in the AHO portal: the AHO Focal Points Network; the SIDS Community Network; the Monitoring & Evaluation Network; the WHO-FIC SA Network; and the WHO-FIC SA Mortality Network.

Some of them were working offline for a long time and now have the opportunity of taking advantage of the online world and all the tools AHO has made available.

There are different types of networks: surveillance networks, information and knowledge sharing networks, social mobilization networks, etc. These can be established at global, regional, subregional, national or local level.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa also supports several networks, like the African Rotavirus Surveillance Network, the Paediatric Bacterial Meningitis Surveillance Network, the National Public Health Laboratory Network, the Technical Network on HIV/AIDS and STI Surveillance Network. Some of them have been operational for decades and organize significant meetings

Networks to help decision making
At a broader level is EVIPNet, a worldwide knowledge translation platform network that promotes the systematic use of health research evidence in policy-making. EVIPNet promotes partnerships at the country level between policy-makers, researchers and civil society in order to facilitate both policy development and policy implementation through the use of the best scientific evidence available.

EVIPNet Africa currently comprises teams in seven sub-Saharan African countries. Launched in March 2006, the network has since performed several initiatives, both at subregional and national levels in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia. Other countries that have shown interest to join are Cabo Verde, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and United Republic of Tanzania.

Useful resources
Natural products research networks in sub-Saharan Africa, The African Health Monitor, issue 13
Guide for National Public Health Laboratory Networking to Strengthen Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response

Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network
Global Humanitarian Health Action Network
Network of WHO Collaborating Centres in Occupational Health
The WHO-FIC Network
The Gender, Women and Health Network
Health Impact Assessment Network
Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Network
Reproductive Health Essential Medicine Network
The ePORTUGUÊSe Network