by Victoria Ward, MD,
Digital Medic is leveraging mHealth digital networks to rapidly distribute COVID-19 education to community health workers on the front lines.
While COVID-19 poses massive threats worldwide, experts predict the pandemic will disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable communities. Without access to critical healthcare resources like personal protective equipment, supplemental oxygen and ventilators, and sufficient clinical workforce to manage the escalating needs, health systems in low resource settings are at high risk for being overwhelmed. These needs may be further exacerbated when limited sanitation infrastructure and overcrowding render preventive actions like social distancing and rigorous cleaning particularly challenging. In response, a primary solution for preventing pandemic spread and providing access to quality care in low resource settings will likely fall to the growing network of community health workers (CHWs).
In many places Digital Medic works around the world, CHWs are the primary implementers of healthcare for hard to reach communities. In the next year, the global community will have produced PPE, diagnostic testing, medications and a vaccine, requiring rapid distribution worldwide. CHWs will serve not only in delivery of clinical information to their beneficiaries, but as a necessary distribution channel for these resources. And yet, effective implementation will require training, education and communication, adapted for language and literacy levels, in order for CHWs to remain up to date on current recommendations.
Supportive training for CHWs can be feasibly and effectively achieved through mobile phones, particularly in light of the imperative for physical distancing. In the past decade, there has been a rapid expansion of mobile phone technology available throughout low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), enabling CHW communication networks to reach unprecedented scale. Multiple systematic reviews have assessed the impact of mobile health (mHealth) interventions in low resource settings, suggesting the use of mobile technology for clinical decision support and CHW training has led to substantial improvements in quality of care.
The Digital Medic team is working at a rapid pace to create engaging and scientifically vetted digital health education for CHWs that can be distributed broadly and cost-effectively. To that end, we are actively building collaborative partnerships with well-established distribution networks to ensure that content is available and accessible to CHWs on the front lines.
One such partner is Viamo, a social enterprise company that uses mobile engagement platforms to disseminate interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS-based educational content at scale in the 27 countries in which they work. Viamo also manages the well-known 3-2-1 Service which allows individuals to call in for timely health-related information on demand, accessible by 200 million people across 18 countries. Digital Medic’s medical education experts are helping to build voice-based educational modules that will be broadly accessible through Viamo’s platforms.
Another new partner is Medic Mobile, a nonprofit organization whose Community Health Toolkit provides easily accessible open-source software to deploy digital content to CHWs in hard to reach places. Through this partnership, training on topics such as how to properly use PPE, identification of symptoms of severe disease and no-touch protocols for common healthcare needs can be rapidly delivered in a way that is engaging, reliable and accessible. Furthermore, the content must be applicable in places where resources like hand sanitizer and running water may not be available. Digital Medic’s expertise in pediatric global health as well as its creation of high quality education uniquely positions us for efficient dissemination of key messages in an appropriate way through the Community Health Toolkit.
Rarely has there been a time when collaborative and integrated global health education and training has been so urgently needed. Digital Medic was created for exactly this need. Leveraging our experience in infectious disease, medical education and content creation, we are finding that partnership with well-established distribution and community health worker networks are critical to preventing Coronavirus worldwide.