Innovative approaches in education and training of health professionals

 

Health professionals’ access to adequate and continued training and education is a bottleneck in the African Region. New approaches can help to mitigate the problem. WHO is taking advantage of the new information and communication technologies (ICT) tools to contribute towards the scaling-up of health professionals’ continuing education and training.

The African Region is currently facing a severe health workforce crisis, with critical shortages, imbalanced skill mix and uneven geographical distribution of health professionals (see AHO figures) of  all types and functions (see health workforce definition), leaving millions without access to health services.

It is crucial to raise the quality and relevance of education and training of medical and health workers in the Region to the highest standards. However, this cannot be done without taking into account Africa’s unique epidemiological context, the public health threats and their underlying cultural, social and economic determinants.

Although a number of countries in the Region have for some time now been including community-based practice in the curricula of health workers education and training for both medical and health sciences (including competency based curricula), pre-service health worker education in many countries tends to focus on the theoretical aspects of health practice rather than providing health workers with the knowledge and skills most relevant to common health problems. This is one of the main reasons why even well-educated health professionals may find themselves ill-prepared to meet the challenges they face when they take up posts within a country’s health system. This situation is changing very slowly due to the scarcity of post-graduation training and education opportunities in many countries.

The role of ICT

ICT have a revolutionary impact in facilitating and promoting pre and in-service education and training. With eLearning and related tools, institutions can provide online and hybrid courses, course materials and health information to health professionals. For example, the WHO’s distance-learning Masters Degree Programme in Health Workforce Development was especially designed for sub-Saharan Africa.

ICT allow for education and training to be more:

  • Affordable and accessible to remote areas: Online courses require fewer training days and facilitators. They also help saving in accommodation and travel expenses without compromising quality. They also make it easier to have the best teachers or trainers on board. They also help in reducing the health workers away from their duty stations while upgrading their skills.
     
  • Customized and tailor-made: the internet makes it easier to research and have access to worldwide relevant and credible information, as well as to choose the courses or modules that best fit the professional’s training needs. For example, the African Health Observatory provides a wide range of evidence-based information and resources such as the African Health Monitor or the Atlas of African Health Statistics and tools like “My Observatory”, which enable professionals to collect information according to their specific interests. The Data and statistics platform even offers customized searches, the selection of specific indicator and the use of filters.
     
  • Brainstorming and knowledge sharing enhancer: several online platforms allow group discussions, documents sharing and collaborative work. AHO has a virtual space for professional networks and communities of practice with a wide range of functionalities available to facilitate interactions between its members.

The fundamental challenge now is to give health professionals affordable ICT capabilities to access online knowledge and training in a context appropriate to their roles and responsibilities. This will enable them to make better use of evidence, research local health challenges, develop treatments, publish in international journals and contribute to meeting the health-related Millennium Development Goals and other agreed targets in the Region.

Another approach would be to make use of collaborating centres or centres of excellence established in already existing key institutions with relevant expertise and short-term training packages in specific areas of medical education. These centres would be a valuable resource that could be leveraged to facilitate medical education and pedagogy for health professionals in order to meet new challenges in both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Useful documents

Guidelines for evaluating basic nursing and midwifery education and training programmes in the African Region

Road map for scaling up human resources for health for improved health service delivery in the African Region 2012–2025, The African Health Monitor, issue 18

Development of human resources for health in the WHO African Region: Current situation and way forward, The African Health Monitor, issue 12

A survey of Sub-Saharan African medical schools, Human Resources for Health (online journal), February 2012

Transforming and scaling up health professionals education and training, World Health Organization guidelines 2013

Scaling up, saving lives report

Increasing access to health workers in remote and rural areas through improved retention, Global policy recommendations

The World Health Report 2006

Rapid scaling up of health workforce production, WHO resolution

Documents and reports on education and training



Useful links

WHO eLearning resources for health workforce training

WHO Regional Office for Africa technical consultation on medical education and training, July 2014

African Health Workforce Observatory

Association of Medical Schools in Africa

WHO Initiative on transformative scale-up of health professional education