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Designing and Facilitating a Digital Health Leadership Course for Stakeholders Across Africa

Discover the Digital Health Applied Leadership Program at the University of Global Health Equity, an initiative for governmental stakeholders in several African countries.

With a sufficiently equipped and supported workforce, digital health technologies have the potential to strengthen – and even transform – healthcare across Africa.

African governments are committed to adopting digital technologies to improve their health systems, increase access to health data, and advance health equity. To achieve this, we need skilled leaders who can continue the shift and build and lead sustainable digital health systems.

To this end, the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda formed a consortium of global health collaborators to co-develop a comprehensive, integrated training curriculum that could upskill key stakeholders to become digital health leaders in Africa. Together, they developed the Digital Health Applied Leadership Program (DHALP), which launched in May 2022. Course delivery partners included the Stanford Center for Health Education (SCHE), Université de Thiès in Senegal, and Partners In Health/In­shuti Mu Buzima (PIH/IMB) in Rwanda, with inputs from TechChange and the World Bank.

In support of DHALP, UGHE received funding from Digital Square, a PATH-led initiative funded and designed by the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a consortium of other investors; and BACKUP Health, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), co-financed by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The 12-month leadership training program was designed based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening and the available competency framework for digital health leadership.

In its inaugural year, the program has involved participants from five ministries of health across Africa. This includes a cohort of English-speaking participants from Malawi and Zimbabwe as well as French-speaking participants from Guinea, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The curriculum focuses on technical, management, and leadership skills. It also includes mentorship and hands-on capstone project work to build skills necessary to drive the development and adoption of digital health interventions across the continent.

“DHALP was designed to foster equity and sustainability in digital health initiatives. Raising awareness of the importance of equity and inclusion in digital health was embedded throughout the course and is central to the mission of the UGHE, and to this project,” said Professor Anil Krishna, Director of the Center for Leadership in Global Health Equity at UGHE. “As a consortium lead, UGHE is making sure that the capstone projects address equity–particularly gender equity–in the accessibility and utilization of digital health and include a strategy for overcoming obstacles to inclusivity.”

Creating Sustainable Transformational Change

A diverse team of professionals worked together to develop and facilitate the leadership course. As part of DHALP, SCHE participated in designing and facilitating a digital health leadership course. The course content encouraged learners to examine their role as leaders in creating sustainable transformational change. It aimed to teach learners to effectively manage processes and lead both themselves and their teams to pursue digital health initiatives. Though course materials were originally created in English, the course was adapted and fully translated into French for Francophone learners.

“Our team was honored to collaborate with a dedicated and expert group of organizations all committed to capacity building for digital health,” said Aarti Porwal, Managing Director at SCHE. “We believe DHALP’s focus on training emerging leaders paves the way for positive change and optimization of digital health strategies that will save lives.”

“We believe DHALP’s focus on training emerging leaders paves the way for positive change and optimization of digital health strategies that will save lives.”

- Aarti Porwal, managing director of the Stanford Center for Health Education

“Our course development team included experts in digital health, learning and development, technology, and leadership,” said Monika Deschodt, Learning Experience Designer at Digital Medic/SCHE. “By leveraging their expertise, we designed an integrated course aiming to equip participants with the fundamental knowledge to develop their leadership skills in a digital health context.”

The course was split into four modules, each consisting of online self-managed activities and live guided virtual discussions:

  1. Leading Self, which focused on developing self-reflection and self-awareness for authentic leadership and management. This included identifying personal strengths and approaches that resonated with each individual and integrating self-care and work-life balance.
  2. Managing Processes, which explained organizational processes and how to improve them, applying human-centered management approaches to create more efficient and effective systems.
  3. Managing People, which introduced evidence-based management approaches for leading teams, with an emphasis on coaching with compassion and hiring for fit.
  4. Leading Organizations, which provided practical guidance for change management, helping participants to leverage self, people, and processes while leading organizations through change.

Learners had the opportunity to watch lecture-based videos and read relevant digital health case studies before discussing them as a group. The SCHE team selected case studies with the aim of exploring practical applications of the theoretical content covered in the modules. They collated real-world examples of digital health initiatives implemented mainly in Africa and presented these for analysis and discussion during the virtual live workshops.

Course Insights and Conclusions

At the end of the leadership course, participants had the opportunity to share feedback about what they gained and topics that were most relevant to their work and goals.

“It was interesting that many participants found that the Leading Self component was especially valuable,” said Deschodt. “Leadership curriculum is often focused on managing teams and putting processes in place, but often it’s the intrapersonal piece that is missing.”

Facilitators and participants also discussed potential improvements to the course. These included the possibility of adjusting the length and timing of the live sessions, creating more opportunities for interactivity and gamification, integrating regular assessments to ensure learners stay on track throughout the course, and more.

The UGHE team has also conducted a pre- and post-evaluation to gain insights about learners’ experiences and knowledge acquisition. Preliminary results from the Anglophone cohort show an overall increase in knowledge of leadership concepts as well as high satisfaction with the course.

Overall, the course provided participants with a useful exploration of how to apply established leadership approaches to diverse digital health contexts. Using real-world examples, participants reflected on how they might implement initiatives in their own countries and communities.

After completing the leadership course, participants moved into the final phase of the Digital Health Applied Leadership Program – the hands-on country team projects – which will lead up to their graduation in 2023.

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