I’ve got a golden ticket: eLearning in rural clinics in sub-Saharan Africa

Reposted from the Global Health Corps Blog.

ICT for Development (ICT4D) practitioners, tech companies, international organizations and development workers are debating the relevance and implications of using technology to promote health in developing countries. Some advocate the golden ticket approach; a be-all-end-all tool that will end pediatric HIV, stop extreme drug resistant tuberculosis, and end all avoidable deaths throughout the global south, etc.  Technological innovations often get the credit for changing the world, for starting revolutions and for making the world a better place.

But that’s not exactly true. As a Distance Learning Officer at the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) through my Global Health Corps fellowship, I have spent my time developing computer based and mobile (phone) based tools to enhance training, provide onsite support, and connect healthcare workers throughout rural Uganda and potentially sub-Saharan Africa.  And it’s not easy. Not only are there funding constraints, but distance learning requires staff time and technological literacy that needs resources and time to build.

Yet, the potential benefits outweigh the barriers.  Distance learning offers rural healthcare workers the opportunity to build technical skills using computers and the internet, communicate with specialists via mobile phone and text message, and most importantly, continue their medical education to stay abreast of the most recent life-saving developments to improve their clinical practice.  There’s tremendous opportunity and distance learning, predictively, will be a necessary tool to continuing education of not just healthcare workers, but educators and all those interested in continuing their professional education while they stay on the job. There’s also a lot to still define; like who’s going to train distance learning users with low tech literacy? what’s the best way of using technology to enhance learning, especially remotely? and are there cultural differences, not only in how we learn, but how we relate to technology that needs to be taken into account in developing distance learning programming?

So what have I been doing about it? Well to start, I’ve worked on several grant proposals, working closely with the team at IDI to develop post training support tools and follow up tools using mobile phones.  I’ve also developed some concept papers about computer based learning and implemented a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices assessment to establish the technological literacy and views of healthcare workers involved in IDI trainings at IDI and at their facilities (n=160). Working with IDI content experts, we’re updating curricula and setting up computer based content for future courses.  It’s a process and the great thing about technology is, with every problem, there’s a work-around and an opportunity to learn more.



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