How virtual training in Nigeria can sustain malaria programming during a pandemic

{Photo credit: MSH staff}Photo credit: MSH staff

By Victoria Erinle

COVID-19 is changing how malaria projects maintain programming in Nigeria. Before the pandemic, trainings and capacity-building efforts were conducted face-to-face, coupled with breakout sessions, where attendees huddled to discuss a topic or idea in-depth. But as public health experts recommend physical distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus, face-to-face interactions are no longer considered a safe way to meet or share knowledge. To bridge this communications gap, organizations and programs worldwide are now utilizing virtual resources—an approach that has not been widely tested in training large groups of people in Nigeria, especially health care workers.

The Global Fund (GF) Malaria grant recently faced this dilemma while organizing a training for national trainers on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health plus nutrition (RMNCAH+N) services. The training was planned for June 2020 but due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the project turned to alternative meeting methods.

MSH, as a sub-recipient to Catholic Relief Services, is implementing the Global Fund grant in 13 states in Nigeria. As part of that effort toward strengthening the capacity of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and the National Malaria Elimination Program (NMEP), MSH is supporting both organizations in managing RMNCAH+N services and malaria programs at the national and sub-national levels. Training focuses on program planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation techniques that will improve these national and sub-national program managers’ skills. Trainees are then expected to share what they learn with program managers at the state and local government levels.

Fact Sheet: Learn more about the Global Fund Malaria Grant

To work around the restrictions on in-person meetings and to better prepare participants and facilitators for the actual training, MSH organized three simulation sessions each, on Zoom. Facilitators at the training were comprised of senior managers from the FMoH, a university professor of community medicine, and three WHO Nigeria country office staff.

One major feature of Zoom that made the training unique, and an improvement on similar trainings in the country, were the Zoom breakout rooms, which enabled smaller group discussions and exercises. Most participants judged this to be the most relevant part of the sessions. Google forms for real-time feedback and evaluation of training logistics, as well as for coordination and delivery of training modules by the facilitators, were immensely valuable. The prompt analysis and use of participants’ feedback to improve subsequent days’ trainings were integral to the success of each session.

Feedback from the training evaluation revealed keen interest and active participation throughout the training period for several reasons:

  • The online training broadened the horizon of participants in the use of technology. It was the first virtual training for some participants.

 

  • The training modules contained topics relevant to RMNCAH+N program management, something they were quite eager to learn.

 

  • Sessions were very interactive, especially during breakout sessions, where participants had ample time to present and discuss assignments and practice facilitation within their small groups. The take-home assignments were also discussed at larger plenary sessions, after discussion at the breakout sessions, which helped facilitate sharing to the larger groups.

 

  • To encourage inclusiveness, the MSH team created a WhatsApp platform for the use of all participants and facilitators, both during and after each training day. Participants were able to freely exchange ideas and ask questions and receive answers from either facilitators or fellow participants.

Poor internet connections and prolonged power outages in some participants’ homes definitely presented a major challenge. Some participants had to turn on their power generators, incurring additional expenses.  

Overall, attendees expressed satisfaction with the sessions and thought they were almost as good as face-to-face trainings. Participants and facilitators alike were very positive about similar future trainings, which would draw from the expertise demonstrated by the MSH team and expose them to the features available on Zoom.

According to FMoH and WHO, this training has set the pace for all stakeholders in malaria programming in Nigeria to follow, as they work toward ensuring business continuity in the context of COVID-19.