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Forging Deeper Learning Pathways to Boost Vital Knowledge and Skills for Those at the Front lines of Care in Africa

These pathways, versus one-off training programs, comprise a series of free, tailored and accredited learning modules intended to increase knowledge and ensure nurses’ skill sets are up to date.
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Inadequate human resources for healthcare strategies pose a serious issue in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). To achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the world needs an additional 9 million nurses and emphasizes the importance of easy access to continuous professional development training for frontline health workers and a more highly skilled health workforce.

The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) was founded to respond to the human resource crisis in global health and build a thriving health workforce—a purpose that came to the fore prominently during COVID-19. With funding from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Center embarked on forming a new collective partnership with The World Continuing Education Alliance (WCEA), The Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery East Africa (AKU-SONAM) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) to support healthcare professionals during the pandemic, particularly in LMICs. The collective work resulted in the development of an open-source, accredited COVID-19 training and education program delivered via mobile app and online platform, targeting nurses across Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

“It has been great working with the WCEA who through their innovative online and mobile app platforms have contributed to capacity building, especially in uncertain times. I celebrate all the nurses who have been impacted by these courses and encourage them to continue the important work they are doing of healing the world.”
– Eunice Ndirangu, Dean, The Aga Khan University (SONAM)

While this COVID-19 response served as the test bed for the partnership, the partners continued to look at ways in which to shape support for health workers beyond the pandemic. Now, together with the WCEA and other key stakeholders, the effort has extended one step further through establishing “learning pathways”—the aim of which is to ensure nurses are on learning journeys to become more specialized and skilled in their area of practice and empower them to deliver better patient care with improved health outcomes.

A collective effort towards impact

“Our initial work focused on COVID-19 represents a good example of the way in which a combined, focused approach drives impact,” says Marion Birnstill, Senior Manager, Global Community Manager, EMEA at Johnson & Johnson. “This work nurtured an ecosystem where various role-players came together to achieve a common objective, namely strengthening the quality of healthcare in African countries and ensuring nurses have easy access to accredited training. By taking this approach, we were able to develop a solution that is not top-down, but rather one that has been collaboratively designed and that can be embedded into developing countries’ local human resources for health strategies to help drive positive outcomes.”

Each contributor brought their unique expertise to the table, effectively reducing fragmentation and facilitating a more impactful, far-reaching intervention. This is evident in the significant program outcomes:

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Turning key learnings into key interventions

A fundamental takeaway that emerged from the COVID-19 work was that while a wealth of information exists at nurses’ disposal, there needed to be ways to curate this content moving forward and employ strategic thinking around how training can be more targeted to fill specific gaps in the provision of quality care.

To that end, the WCEA worked with nursing councils and associations in country to assess the knowledge gaps that exist among their health workforce and explore priority areas that require capacity building in line with the countries’ SDG targets.

Working with educational bodies, professional associations and knowledge institutions, the WCEA subsequently set out to develop deeper “learning pathways.” These pathways, versus one-off training programs, comprise a series of free, tailored and accredited learning modules intended to increase knowledge and ensure nurses’ skill sets are up to date. Health professionals can access these quickly and efficiently, from anywhere and on their own schedules. Courses are optimized for low bandwidth, enabling quick downloads and offline study, and minimizing data costs for users.

"The courses are very refreshing, simple, well-organized, and well-illustrated. There is so much content from the app that can help in our day-to-day activities. I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate and appreciate the developers because it has really helped us, and we are very thankful."
– Renson Manono, Registered Nurse, Kenya

“These learning pathways are an evolution of our original work with the WCEA and represent a deep dive into the separation of content to address the knowledge and skills gaps that exist amongst the health workforce,” says Birnstill. “The creation of these pathways is a concerted match-making effort, where multiple stakeholders have come together to ensure that the diverse content available is better suited to people’s needs, that there is sufficient quality control in place and, keeping accessibility top of mind, that this content remains open source.”

The partners have also worked to eliminate duplication by leveraging existing resources suitable for these learning pathways. “We have taken a rigorous approach to sourcing world-class content, bringing together renowned leaders in their respective areas of expertise and facilitating robust conversations around how we can do more with already developed knowledge and assets,” Birnstill adds. “This has enabled us to streamline and strategize content and training to ensure it reaches the right people and adequately supports the improvement of care.”

“In this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, any organization that wants to be more efficient must leverage on information communication technologies to propel its development and transformation agenda. The Council’s partnership with the WCEA to provide a free online platform for trainees and practitioners to gain access to a myriad of professional courses is significant and key in Ghana’s effort to attain Universal Health Coverage by 2030.”
– Felix Nyante, CEO & Registrar Nursing and Midwifery Council of Ghana

With so much pressure on human resources for healthcare in LMICs, and with nurses representing approximately 70% of the health workforce, it is imperative that nurses are highly trained to deliver better patient care, says Craig Fitzpatrick, Director of the WCEA. “We believe these learning pathways will enhance knowledge and skills in key nursing specialty areas. We are grateful to the Johnson & Johnson Foundation for their continued support in helping us deliver this important project that can be scaled into many other countries."