“We have been doing HIV surveillance activities for quite some time. With this course, we are learning more, building our skills and developing new ones,” said one participant in the ICAP Distance Education Project on HIV/AIDS Epidemiological Surveillance, a course focused on strengthening HIV/AIDS and behavioral surveillance skills—including data collection, analysis, and evaluation.

First launched in May 2009 with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ICAP’s Distance Education Project for public health professionals has been conducted in partnership with local CDC offices and Ministries of Health in Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Nigeria. Using an online “webinar” platform, the program has been widely accepted as a valuable approach to building and reinforcing critical planning, implementation, and evaluation skills among public health professionals in Africa.

ICAP has taken the project one step further by using a “train the trainer” approach to prepare Kenyan professionals to manage and lead the surveillance training program. In partnership with Kenya’s National AIDS and STI’s Control Program (NASCOP) and the University of Nairobi (UoN), ICAP is supporting a team of Kenyan educators to design, conduct, and evaluate a distance education program in HIV and behavioral surveillance for health professionals throughout the country. After completing a comprehensive training program, the Kenyan team launched its first course in January 2012 with the participation of 26 trainees from NASCOP, UoN, ICAP, and Kenyatta National Hospital. The second course will begin in May.

“Distance education is an important way to disseminate knowledge and skills,” notes Dr. Andrea Howard, director of the ICAP Clinical and Training Unit. “ICAP’s experience working in 21 countries with very different needs and infrastructure capabilities has shown us that we can tailor our courses to serve a wide range of settings, using both online and off-line resources.”

In 2012, ICAP also completed the first year of its Health Systems Strengthening (HSS) course, which supports health professionals in PEPFAR-focused countries as they design, oversee, monitor, and evaluate health systems strengthening initiatives. This innovative mixed-methods course is designed to support U.S. government field staff and their Ministry of Health colleagues, providing a common framework and understanding of health systems strengthening to facilitate joint identification of country-specific challenges and priorities for country programming. In Year 1, the HSS course was supported by CDC and USAID and delivered in partnership with Health Systems 20/20. Initial participants included teams from Barbados, Jamaica, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Following a five-day foundational workshop that reviewed health systems building blocks and assisted teams to identify priority areas for future work, participants went on to complete phase 2 of the course, a four-month distance education curriculum in which key health systems strengthening topics were addressed in greater depth. Phase 2 modules included systems thinking, human resources management, health financing for sustainable programs, governance and accountability, and the integration of HIV programs into broader health systems. In a typical week participants spent approximately two hours offline completing assigned readings, watching pre-recorded lectures, considering the week’s guiding questions, and interacting via a course wiki. Participants then joined a one-hour online discussion with faculty and peers. The course concluded with a final in-person workshop in Cape Town, South Africa in February 2012.

Reflecting on the course content, one team member from Namibia noted, “The course came at the right time. This information will guide us as we take into account critical issues to consider before integrating HIV/AIDS programs into primary health care services.”

Building on its experience in distance education initiatives, ICAP aims to continue with this training model to enhance the knowledge and skills of colleagues in partner countries. “Using innovative technologies and a curriculum that is tailored to distance education, crucial skills and expertise can be transferred from educators in one location to learners in another. We are enthusiastic about applying our approach to new areas of work in collaboration with local governments and partner organizations,” said Miriam Rabkin, director of health systems strategies at ICAP.

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