Vaccinating millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa against covid-19 requires material resources, but also managers and health personnel prepared to deploy a campaign like few others. For this reason, the World Health Organization (WHO) has teamed up with African and international partners to launch a large-scale training based on teleconferences with experts that is expected to reach 120,000 participants in the next three months, including representatives from the various African countries. The objective is to share updated information and solve doubts in real time, in addition to promoting the creation of virtual communities that facilitate mutual learning and collaboration between professionals from various African regions.
“The sessions are based on a distance training model administered at low doses and at high frequency that has been working for years for diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and even cancer”, explained at a virtual press conference Bruce Stuminger, the person in charge for Africa from ECHO project from the University of New Mexico (USA). “The idea is to have a weekly session for at least three months and until it is necessary.” The initiative is the result of the alliance between the ECHO Project and the Covid-19 Therapeutic Accelerator (ACT-A), led by the WHO, in collaboration with professional associations of African doctors and nurses, among others. In parallel, regional platforms are being set up for professionals from African centers of excellence to guide the personnel deployed throughout the territory.
Covid-19 infections in Africa have risen 50% this January, fueled by the spread of more contagious variants of the virus. To date, the continent has recorded more than 3.5 million cases and is accusing the lack of specialists to care for other diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. WHO has already used the ECHO model to promote the development of 37 national vaccine distribution plans in sub-Saharan Africa. Now, it will use it to prepare the ground for the arrival of vaccines in the coming weeks, promoting equity also in matters of knowledge.
For the head of Emergency Preparedness at WHO in Africa, Ambrose Talisuna, covid-19 is an opportunity to expand new training modalities on a large scale. “We cannot predict which pathogen will cause the next pandemic, but whatever it is, we must be able to quickly convey knowledge to decision makers and healthcare providers. Virtual learning processes and ‘colleague to colleague’ [en los que cada participante puede enseñar y aprender] they are a way to achieve it ”, said Talisua. The one-hour sessions will complement the courses available at Open WHO.
Namibia was the first African country to start using this mutual support system in 2015. In that case, connecting experts in the capital with the most isolated clinics in the country to combat HIV. The network continues to hold weekly meetings, so when COVID-19 arrived, it was easy to use the same platform to disseminate information and address the disruption of health services for the pandemic.
“In a situation like the current one, you need to train health workers and quickly, because misinformation flies,” said Leonard Bikinesi, head of the ECHO project for HIV in Namibia. “This model allows us to disseminate reliable information to those who need it and when they need it, helping to standardize care and make more efficient use of resources. In addition, it is useful to solve clinical cases and adverse effects in a collaborative way and in real time ”.
In a situation like the current one, you need to train health workers and fast, because misinformation flies
Leonard Bikinesi, Head of the ECHO HIV project in Namibia
The public health analyst of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mary Boyd, referred to the recent creation of the ECHO network for the countries of the West and southern Africa. “The platform allows us to exchange experiences on covid-19, keep up to date and update clinical practices when necessary.”
Accessing the internet is essential to benefit from the platform, but the recordings of each session will be available the next day so that anyone can access the content whenever possible. Likewise, entities such as the Association of Doctors of East Africa are exploring the dissemination of content through messaging applications such as WhatsApp for areas with less coverage.
Experts have estimated that collaborative and digital training will revolutionize the future of training and program implementation in Africa, and that it is here to stay. “The collaboration with ECHO it is improving our capacity to prepare and respond to pandemics, ”said Talisuna of the WHO. “For example, right now we are dealing with outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea, and the platform could also be adapted to address these issues.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.