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Equipping Health Workers on the Front Lines With Adaptable COVID-19 Digital Resources

The Center and UNICEF have been collaborating on digital technologies to educate frontline health workers about COVID-19, life-saving prevention strategies and, more recently, vaccination. Well-researched and vetted content is now accessible for health workers to readily deploy in their communities.

With support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, UNICEF—together with the COVID-19 Digital Classroom consortium and the World Health Organization—has created nine digital courses covering a range of topics on COVID-19, including basic information on the virus, prevention and protection measures, and ways to alleviate impact on public health.

The resource is designed primarily for community-based health workers in low- and middle-income countries. It aims to equip them with knowledge and skills to provide preventative and promotive community services, to conduct risk communication and community engagement, and to support community-based surveillance. Health workers on the ground are supported with accurate and digestible messaging that they can readily deploy to the communities in their care.

At the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF identified the need for a platform-agnostic resource with vetted training content to strengthen learning systems for frontline health workers, particularly community health workers. To enable rapid adaption and deployment, UNICEF has taken a leading role to generate digital assets using already developed and available training resources for those directly involved in patient care.

The COVID-19 courses are optimized for delivery across a range of digital channels including SMS, social media platforms (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and Telegram) and app-based learning management systems such as Moodle and Oppia Mobile.

This approach is based on extensive review by UNICEF of what works in digital training of frontline health workers as well as field testing with a cohort of 40 community health workers and supervisors in Liberia last year. Currently, UNICEF is deploying the digital content to health workers in Liberia and other African countries including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Togo and Chad, while strengthening the existing implementation of digital solutions for community health workers in these countries to improve real-time monitoring of service delivery and quality of care.

While the course series targets community-based health workers specifically, the topics are relevant to anyone involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic globally. This digital content will be readily available for third-party organizations to access via the Compass content repository by the end of September and will be managed by UNICEF and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. Currently, a selection of the courses is available via the online content repository.

A commitment to strengthening community health services

“UNICEF is implementing a comprehensive health response to COVID-19, focusing on vaccine distribution, outbreak control and mitigation of the collateral impacts of the pandemic on women and children,” says Karin Källander, Senior Health Advisor and Chief Digital Health and Information Systems, UNICEF. “A particular priority area for us was to ensure that community-based health services were maintained, which is essential for limiting COVID-19 transmission and providing care to COVID-19 cases and at-risk groups. In collaboration with the Center for Health Worker Innovation, we were able to rapidly turn globally approved content developed by partner organizations into two-way messaging flows that could quickly be adopted, localized and translated, regardless of which software platform countries use to communicate with their health workforce, or which phone model community health workers use.”

Källander adds that the content has been well received and encourages more interested parties to reach out. “From evaluations we have learned that the content has been greatly appreciated by community health workers, and we see a growing demand for more content to be made available, such as modules that cover community health worker routine work around sick child management and newborn care. While we continue to scope out more content to add to the content repository, we are continuing to provide technical assistance to countries and organizations who want to integrate these remote learning services for community health workers as part of their community health services. We welcome anyone interested in adopting and deploying this content to get in touch with us at contact@digitalhealthcoe.org.”

A web-based offering and adaptation toolkit available on hand

An online version of the content is available via the Community Health Academy, which offers eight of the nine courses in English, French, Swahili, Hindi, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish. The Academy is a member of the COVID-19 Digital Classroom consortium, and is led by Last Mile Health with whom the Center is working to support the delivery of primary healthcare to the world’s most remote communities.

In addition, a Course Series Adaptation Toolkit is also accessible to individual learners, trainers, institutions and governments who are interested in adapting the content for their locations, languages and contexts and in deploying the training to more individuals who could benefit from the course series. The toolkit supports users in determining their starting point in the adaptation process, the level of adaptation they require and the resources they need. It provides an overview of the 10-step adaptation process in line with the course development and instructional design processes of lead content developer, TechChange (a core member of the COVID-19 Digital Classroom consortium), common adaptation use cases and quick links, as well as a reference list with links to all toolkit resources.