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5th june 2017

Health professionals are the cornerstone of any health system. Yet the world is facing a global shortage of health workers. A scarcity which – along with the global epidemic of non-communicable diseases – is one of the most critical obstacles to the achievement of development goals. Shared solutions are needed, that involve massive changes in global health education and training of health practitioners.

In developing countries, this health workforce crisis is even more concerning with only 0.2 doctor and 1.2 nurse or midwife per 1000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2013, the WHO estimated a global shortage of over 17 million healthcare workers, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The underlying problem is the lack of resources and a huge shortfall in educating health workers. In 2014, fifty percent of all medical schools in the world were located in ten countries. In America, there is one medical school per 1.2 million people; whereas Africa has only one per 5.0 million.

One of the key recommendations of “Health professionals for a new century: transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world” report by the Lancet Commission is “exploiting the power of Information Technology (IT) for learning.”

With Africa, for example, reaching 80% of mobile penetration in 2016, ICTs undeniably represent powerful tools in facilitating access to health workers’ education.
One of the main benefits of digital training is that boundaries do not limit access or participation. A teacher in Kenya can teach the same material in any English-language school. This is why institutions can increase the number of course offerings and the number of students or teachers reached thanks to video and audio streaming of lectures, mobile-based multiple-choice questionnaires, or Q&A for distance training. Open-source learning materials and social networking learning approaches are thus becoming the basis of mobile education.
These mobile tools can be used also for short-term training such as when facing an emergency. To face an epidemic, health professionals must know how to behave appropriately. During Ebola, Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare partnered with UNICEF and Intrahealth International to provide health workers with online materials that demonstrated the correct practices to avoid infection.
But implementing long-term training programs that provide health practitioners with consistent and replicable education is the most important. The Indian government has recently launched a nationwide mHealth program that aims to train one million community health professionals to reach 10 million pregnant women. As of today; 258,241 of these community health workers have started this training course in nine states, and 147,177 have already graduated.

Amref in Africa is another organization well versed in using ICTs for medical training as they have trained to date 20,000 nurses in Africa using eLearning. Over the last four years, Amref Health Africa has developed a mobile learning solution in partnership with the Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Accenture, and Safaricom and used mLearning to educate over 3,000 community health volunteers, thus impacting over 300,000 community members with much needed health education and basic health services.
Training and educational digital health approaches have the potential to empower health workers in remote areas, improve quality of care at the frontline and reinforce health systems, as well as alleviate the workload at overburdened health facilities.