Monday, 14 November 2016

Characterizing partnerships and measuring their impacts, both intended and unintended

On Day 1 of THET Annual Conference 2016, ‘Evidence, Effectiveness & Impact’, Lawrence Loh chaired the breakout session entitled ‘Network for collaboration: partnership communities and volunteers contributions’. Here the highlights of the session. 

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Tropical Health and Education Trust conference held 20-21 October at Resource for London and chairing the breakout session titled “Networks for collaboration: partnership communities and volunteer contributions.” 

In keeping with the conference theme of Evidence, Effectiveness and Impact and focus on health partnerships, the presented valuable abstracts covered the full range of tools and topics around partnerships. These included tools to measure and visualise partnerships and networks; frameworks to assess a partnership or coalition’s development phase; strategies to tangibly measure the outcomes of partnerships; and of course, broad descriptions of how partnerships might better support sustainable, positive development impacts on communities worldwide.  

The first presentation, from Kristy Yiu of McMaster University, reviewed the results of a network mapping analysis conducted on a novel community health partnership in the Dominican Republic. The specific aim of this coalition is to bring visiting short-term volunteer groups into the fold of established development efforts identified by the communities, thus eliminating the “parallel system” of programming created by foreign visitors. To move the partnership forward, Yiu and her co-authors analysed the range of connections between coalition partners and evaluated their perceptions around the coalition’s strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, Yiu’s work aimed to show the value of network analysis in planning and developing global health partnerships. 

Dr. Oliver Johnson of Africa Health Placements (AHP) then shared a summary of post-experience survey evaluations from their participants. The studied population was largely junior doctors placed by AHP in Africa based rural hospitals for year-long placements to support health human resource gaps. In doing so, African-based partners were described as having a notable role in leading the recruitment and assignments in question. The surveys found that partnerships with a local facility meant greater engagement between parties, and interestingly, a commitment from participant junior doctors to undertake quality improvement projects while on the ground there – perhaps reflective of an unintended shift in volunteer mindset towards capacity building rather than strict service provision. 

The next talk from Dr. Katie Mageean also emerged from an African project that focused on the evaluation results arising from a partnership-led paediatric triage intervention in Uganda. Dr. Mageean’s work helped demonstrate the substantive outcome of health partnerships. In her specific example, local partner leadership and buy-in was essential to facilitating training and support for local staff, which in turn supported the success of the intervention in changing process outcomes. Her presentation closed by highlighting additional ongoing research work that is targeted at documenting improved patient outcomes from this capacity building partnership effort.

The last and final presentation by Dr. Annalee Yassi presented a “North-South-South” partnership model based on the development of partnerships between a Canadian institution and its South African counterpart. In this specific model, technical expertise around health challenges was sought through an initial international partnership (North-South) that then was distributed through a national network of peers (South-South). Dr. Yassi shared lessons learned and opportunities that such a model might provide, highlighting the need for a strong, respected southern partner to act as the key modulator between the two relationships and bring information and identified needs from their South-South “community of practice” as part of the conversation within the North-South partnership. In turn, that same partner would be expected to bring and disseminate international inputs within the South-South partnership.

The session ended with a panel discussion featuring the presenters that drew out common themes among their work. Questions focused on tools to understand and measure the outcomes of partnerships to show their value, and the importance of flexibility in developing and tweaking differing partnership models depending on context and priorities. The perspective of trust and openness from local partners was also highlighted as one potential area to explore that had not been touched on. 

In all, the session was extremely fruitful and provided a lot of food for thought around how we understand and evaluate the nature of health partnerships in global health work. As with all good sessions, many left with more ideas and questions than they started with!

Lawrence C. Loh, MD, MPH, CCFP, FRCPC, FACPM
Associate Medical Officer of Health, Peel Public Health Director of Programs at The 53rd Week Ltd., Brooklyn, NY

See pages 23-26 of the Abstract Booklet for more information about the work of the partnerships featured in this blog. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Tackling chronic diseases in Ethiopia

Dr Alice Holmes and Dr Arla Gamper travelled to Gondar in Northern Ethiopia in the summer of 2016. There they assisted with data collection for a novel study concerning diabetes. Here follows an account of their time there.

Gondar University Hospital is situated in the Amhara region in the North of Ethiopia. It serves a population of 5 million, 90% of whom live rurally with poor access to the central hospital. There are 9 health centres in rural settings in the region, and much of the success of the work done by Sir Eldryd Parry and colleagues over the last 15 years is evidenced in these centres, where patients’ health care needs are being met closer to their home.

In our first week we travelled to Aykel health centre, 65km outside Gondar, where we met a 36-year-old male farmer, recently diagnosed with diabetes. If this had been 10 years ago, he would have had to travel a full day by foot to see a healthcare provider. Now, he is able to receive medical care for his diabetes within one hour’s walk of his home. This is one example of the major advances that the chronic disease programme in Ethiopia has made.

THET has been supporting the chronic disease programme for 20 years in Ethiopia to improve care of patients with epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic lung disease. The programme has contributed significantly to the strengthening of chronic disease care in rural Ethiopia. Patients with type one diabetes, that means those requiring insulin from the point of diagnosis, have different characteristics to those who are diagnosed with type one diabetes in the UK. The purpose of our work with the team in Gondar was to assist with a study looking at the reasons for this difference.

Previous studies in Ethiopia have described new diabetics as presenting later in life than in the West, which closely resembles the previously described malnutrition related diabetes[i]. The current study hypothesises that this alternative presentation is related to early malnutrition and possibly chronic illnesses in childhood[ii]. We assisted with data collection from diabetics and age and sex matched controls. We hope that the study will help to understand in more detail the nature of this disease which is seen across sub-Saharan Africa. This knowledge could contribute to better treatment options and prevention.

Treating an Ethiopian rural farmer, who may have had no formal education, to manage his blood sugar with insulin is no mean feat. Prior to the chronic disease programme, this patient would have had to travel many hours to Gondar, to collect insulin, often requiring him to take time off work, thus losing essential income for himself and his family. Educating such patients on the importance of good blood sugar control, managing low blood sugar, and preventing the complications of diabetes has been a remarkable success. The dedication and perseverance of Dr Shitaye and her team has enabled these patients to have an understanding of their disease, appropriate local follow up, and a reliable supply of free insulin. The creativity of the patients who have to keep their 3 monthly supply of insulin cool is admirable – they store their insulin in bags of sand, below ground level, ensuring its safety and efficacy even after some weeks in a hot climate.

During our time on the medical ward in Gondar University Hospital we observed the care of patients presenting with communicable and non-communicable diseases. Treating patients with diabetic complications, such as diabetic foot ulcer, highlights some of the challenges of providing effective health care in this setting. On the ward we met a 24-year-old farmer with a diabetic foot ulcer and underlying bone infection. We observed the difficulties the doctors had in managing his blood sugars on the ward. Without basic equipment, such as that to measure blood sugar, doctors are not able to provide optimal care. We observed limitations to acquiring equipment, reagents and medications on numerous occasions, which is a major limiting factor to providing healthcare in Gondar.

People’s understanding of disease and its cause in this area poses another challenge to providing care. Many patients wait for some time before seeking medical advice for their symptoms; consulting a traditional healer in the first instance, who is often more accessible, before presenting to the hospital. This combined with the fact that the vast majority of the population live rurally and many hours from the nearest health centre means that patients come late and with significant complications of their illness. Challenging health beliefs and educating patients about their medical condition is difficult in any setting, but especially here. The introduction of community-based Health Extension Workers over the past few years has contributed significantly to the reduction in maternal mortality, and increased life expectancy, and it is hoped that the integration of these professionals into communities will add to and enable better disease management and health literacy.

[i] Alemu S, Dessie A, Seid E et al. Insulin-requiring diabetes in rural Ethiopia: should we reopen the case for malnutrition-related diabetes? Diabetologia (2009) 52:1842–1845
[ii] Fedaku S, Yigzaw M, Alemu S et al. Insulin-requiring diabetes in Ethiopia: associations with poverty, early undernutrition and anthropometric disproportion. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010) 64:1192-1198

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Maximising the potential for further funding in Mozambique.

We asked Sarah Cavanagh, Pharmacist and Peter Donaldson, Consultant Surgeon, to reflect on what they did to increase the chances of their project lasting beyond Health Partnership Scheme funding; by forging links with the Rotary Club they have secured potential funding for the future. Their project aims to develop patient safety programmes at the Central Hospital of Beira, Mozambique.

Tell us more about how you started to engage with the Rotary Club and where you are at now.
We began to engage with the Rotary club fairly early on in our partnership. We attended the 2014 THET conference which provided inspiration in the form of a workshop that covered fundraising strategies, as well as local stakeholder engagement. 

What was the issue?
The main issue was that our partnership did not have a very high profile locally, either within our hospital or in our local community. We also had no certainty that we would secure funding after the project end which is set for February 2017.

Who said or did what, and when?
We presented to Ipswich-Orwell Rotary Club in December 2014, October 2015, July and September 2016. In October 2015 we also presented to Woodbridge Rotary Club. In March 2016 we were invited to attend a drinks reception with local business leaders and our local MP and former Health Secretary, Ben Gummer, who has over many years been very supportive of both Ipswich Hospital and The Rotary Club. We also met with MP Ben Gummer separately, in his constituency office.

Ipswich-Orwell Rotary Club greet Health Professionals from Mozambique
Photograph taken by Eleanor Bull in Ipswich Hospital, April 2016.

What were the immediate reactions and results? What challenges did you face?
Immediately our profile was raised because we had spoken to these influential people. We also had increased press coverage, specifically in The East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star, through a Rotary-Orwell contact.

We did face some challenges however, as the vision to involve the Rotary Club and seek wider support, as well as additional funding was not universally shared within the team. This led to some debate and delay, but eventually it was seen to be a good idea for the future of the partnership.

What were the longer-term results?
After presenting twice, and without asking for any money, Rotary-Orwell asked whether they could support us financially. They organised a fundraising event in July 2016 and prior to that held a raffle; the two events raised over £700 for the project! As the July fundraising event (Rotary Mastermind Competition) was held in collaboration with the other three Ipswich Rotary Clubs, it has led to friendly contact with these clubs as well as Ipswich-Orwell. The partnership’s involvement has also helped raise awareness of the great work of the Rotary Club and Rotary International.

Sarah Cavanagh presenting the Rotary Ipswich-Orwell banner to Dr Wingi Olivier in Beira 2016
Photograph taken by Eleanor Bull in Ipswich Hospital, April 2016.

Have you solved the problem of sustainability? What will you do next?
We feel that we have to a certain extent solved this problem. There is a much greater understanding and awareness of our partnership both within our hospital and our community, and we have established good links with five of the local Rotary Clubs. After our next visit, in November 2016, we will have a clearer idea of the next steps with the partnership. We will be maintaining our established links with Rotary, with a view to maintaining or even increasing their involvement in the future.

What have you learnt, and what advice could you give to other partnerships?
One of the most important lessons we learned was that asking for money straight away is not necessarily the best way to maximise fundraising, neither is it the best way to forge longer term relationships with potential funders and local opinion leaders. These things take time and it is important to nurture the relationships.

Orwell Rotary Club presenting a cheque for £703 to our partnership in September 2016 for medical and maintenance equipment for Beira Hospital.
Photograph taken by David Vincent, 2016.

Rotary Club and Rotary International consist of 1.2 million neighbours, friends, and community leaders who come together to create positive, lasting change in local communities and around the world. Differing occupations, cultures, and countries give Rotary a unique perspective. Rotary support a variety of causes both at home and abroad. They are specifically identified and targeted to maximize local and global impact. Rotary uses its network of resources and partners to focus service efforts in promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education, and growing local economies. As such this ethos ties in very nicely with Health Partnerships.

If you would like more information on the work of the Rotary Club and  Rotary International, please visit

Monday, 10 October 2016

BMET training in Zambia: the money

As described in a previous blog, I am supported by THET to work at a Technical College in Zambia to train local students to become hospital equipment maintenance professionals. In this blog I want to share with you some of my experiences on what it means to be in what the ‘International Development’ world calls a ‘low resourced country’.

Training to become a Biomedical Technician is quite an expensive undertaking. The college is over 90% funded by the fees from students. The main fee is about 300 USD per term (900 USD/year).  On top of that come examination fees (100 USD/year) and housing fees (60 USD/term), for which you have a bed in a small room with two-four co-students plus some facilities. Altogether, that is quite a lot of money in a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 42% are considered to be in extreme poverty.

Chris Mol lecturing to BMET students.

Our BMET students are usually funded by their family. This includes not only parents, but also uncles, aunts and older brothers and sisters. It is very difficult for ‘older brothers’ with a reasonable income to save money or purchase a house while their (many) younger siblings still require education. These contributions are not considered a loan and won’t be paid back. Money is spent in the family where it is needed.

On top of family funding, many of our students have to work to earn money during their school terms as well as in between terms. The work they do is what they call piece work: washing cars, helping in building works, and whatever else they can find. The salary for this, as for gardeners and house maids, is in the order of 40 cents/hour, if you can find the work!

Students take notes during a lecture.

In this context it is not surprising that many students have little money left for anything that is not an absolute must. Most students do not have a computer and if they do, are dependent on the overloaded network at the college to get internet access. However, most of them do have a mobile phone which is frequently used. The cost of talking is about 10 cents per minute, but many schemes give cheaper access under certain conditions. Also, special offers for ongoing Facebook access are popular. 

Coming from a high resource country, it at first appears to be a good idea to help students by offering them loans to finance their studies or a computer, something that is currently not done by the government. But this becomes less attractive considering the near certainty that such loans will not be paid back, simply because students would not feel this as a strong moral obligation.  And a problem of gifts is to define where to begin and where to end and how to do this in a way that appears fair and does enable you to continue to be related to your environment in a ‘normal’ way.  The advice I am currently following is not to interfere in these matters and consider my teaching of the BMET course and the long-term improvements to healthcare graduates will make as the best contribution I can make.

Your comments are welcome at:

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Contributing to a new movement in anaesthesia care

Laura Macpherson, Grants Officer at THET, shares her impressions following a recent monitoring visit to health partnership projects in Ethiopia, which are funded through the DFID/THET Health Partnership Scheme (HPS).

In June I travelled with my colleague Emily Burn (Evaluation and Learning Coordinator) and two DFID representatives to monitor the progress of seven health partnerships in Ethiopia. We anticipated that a monitoring trip to Ethiopia promised insights into an exciting health context and would allow us to verify some examples of truly successful partnership working.

We were not proved wrong. A highlight for me was our visit to Jimma University Hospital (JUH), which partners with the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) and the Association of Anaesthetists of Uganda (AAU) to deliver the SAFE Paediatric Anaesthesia in East and Central Africa project. Faced with the reality of extremely basic anaesthetic equipment, very few anaesthetists, a lack of continuing professional development opportunities, only five ICU beds, compounded by a recent increase in road traffic accidents across the country, the senior residents who had received training through this project have been inspired to make a difference and are working against the odds at JUH. As Tirunesh Gemechu, Anaesthesia Resident states:

‘It is very challenging, and it would be much easier for me to go through other departments and specialise in them. There are very few trainers, very limited equipment to practice, and very few consultants with knowledge to pass down.’

Tirunesh Gemechu, Anaesthesia Resident. (Photo: Emily Burn)

They commented that they are noticing a real difference in the way they treat patients on a daily basis, are now much more confident in caring for newborns in particular, and are eager to share their learning with colleagues.

‘The course has filled a major gap I had in paediatric anaesthesia. I am now more confident to practice that. I was able to meet people who can help me get more learning and more experiences and even more rotations outside of Ethiopia. We were trained with international participants so I could learn from them and hopefully learn from them in the future.’ Says Tirunesh.

The project is also contributing to a new movement across the country that is seeing more attention being given to the specialty of anaesthesia, which is clearly much-needed.

The visit has reiterated the value of visiting projects in person. This really allows you to appreciate the numerous and varied benefits to health partnership working that are difficult to capture without discussion. I count myself lucky to have seen first-hand the impact that all of the projects are making across the country.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A New Generation Takes On Chronic Malnutrition

THET’s Communications Officer, Timur Bekir, traveled to Lusaka, Zambia, to document the activity of two ground breaking training courses in nutrition.  

100 acutely malnourished children. That’s how many cases University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka has in the severe acute malnutrition ward at any one time during its peak season. It’s a shocking number for a country edging towards middle income status.

It’s a number that becomes more overwhelming when you’re told that the whole hospital only has four Nutritionists. Just four to deal with the multitude of nutrition related cases such as under-nutrition, diabetes, obesity, renal failure, the list goes on.

Mr Zimba, one of UTH’s valuable Nutritionists, is showing me around the children’s ward. He explains that the peak season is from April to September, this is before harvest time when food stores are low:  

‘Malnutrition is about bad nutrition so there is over nutrition and under nutrition, so on this ward we are dealing with under nutrition. Nutrition intervention is not a remedy but it is a supplement to whatever doctors are doing.’

60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 42% are considered to be in extreme poverty, with much of the population surviving on subsistence farming. Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, is a serious concern in Zambia. With a prevalence of 45% among children under five years of age, substantially higher than the average of 38% for sub-Saharan Africa and the eighth highest prevalence among the 123 countries for which data exist.[1]

Mr Zimba takes me to another ward where the role of the Nutritionist is crucial. At the Renal Unit he explains the tests he does on patients to find out if they are deficient in nutrients or electrolytes or minerals like iron, potassium, sodium. Those tests allow him to see where the deficiencies are, do calculations and know the amount of nutrients needed in the fluid. This is a specialised role but the hospital does not have any specialists in the field of nutrition:

‘Right now in Zambia we do not have Nutritionists who are specialised in treating all these outlying cases, and with only four Nutritionists we are struggling in the field of nutrition.’

THET responded to the lack of Nutritionists and the problem of chronic malnutrition by working in partnership with the University of Zambia (UNZA) to develop the first BSc and MSc in Human Nutrition. This level of teaching in Nutrition has never existed in Zambia before and will go a long way to supporting the Zambian government’s commitment to improving the nutritional situation of its population.

The country’s National Food and Nutrition Strategy and the First 1000 Most Critical Days Programme were launched in 2013.  Central to the Government’s strategy are the objectives to significantly reduce chronic malnutrition in young children and increase investment in nutrition and nutrition-sensitive interventions.  The Government of Zambia acknowledges that achievement of their objectives is constrained by the shortfall of adequately qualified nutritionists and dieticians in Zambia.

Five volunteer lecturers from the UK, east and southern Africa are delivering the programme until UNZA has enough qualified lecturers to run the programme themselves.  Lecturers like Tonderai Matsungo from Zimbabwe:

‘The skills that the students are going to get from the programme are very crucial in terms of improving the quality of care that patients receive at the different health institutions, either government or private. An integral part of any nutrition training, besides the clinical part, is an emphasis on preventing and prevention is the one that covers public health and community aspects of nutrition so that is very important and those components are well covered in the BSc and MSc nutrition programme.’

Lecturer Tonderai Matsungo teaching in class at UTH. (Photo: Timur Bekir)

22 students graduated from the BSc on the 8th of December 2015 and there are nine students currently enrolled in the MSc Programme. Adana has one more year left of training, after which she hopes to go back to her local community and carry on her work as a Nutritionist. But, as she states, if the course wasn’t there she may have chosen a different career path altogether due to the lack of career development:

 ‘If this course was not there, probably I would have been doing other courses in other fields and I’m sure by now I would have gone to do another profession or career. But now that there’s this course I will continue as a nutritionist and I will go back to my province to make sure malnutrition levels are low.’

Adana, BSc Nutrition student. (Photo: Timur Bekir)

Back in the acute ward at UTH a mother is feeding her child, who was brought in with severe malnutrition. Talking to the mother was a stark reminder of how important the role of Nutritionist is, not only to cure nutrition related problems but to improve public knowledge of what good nutrition is. By training a new generation of Nutritionists THET is ensuring that the causes of malnutrition are addressed. Education and training is not a quick fix to health problems, it’s a long-term approach, but one that means a health service, with skilled health workers on the frontline, can offer quality care to patients not just in the short-term but well into the future. 

Mother with under nourished child receiving treatment at UTH. (Photo: Timur Bekir)

[1] UNICEF (2014) State of the World’s Children

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Now more than ever: in defence of aid

Ben Simms, THET CEO, reflects on the challenges we face as individuals engaging in the health partnership approach as we live through this tumultuous period in UK political history.
UK Volunteer in South Sudan with the Winchester-Yei Partnership
We are living in profoundly troubled and even toxic times, an age when our optimism and idealism is being tested to the hilt.
There is no escaping the fact that the vote to leave the European Union and the appointment of a new Secretary of State for International Development piles on new degrees of uncertainty about the future of the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income on overseas development aid.

Britain is now one of just six wealthier countries to meet this long-standing UN target. In 2015, the UK donated £13.21 billion in overseas aid. It is a profound and impressive contribution, and I believe we are in a fight to ensure this commitment is kept.

Under this government I believe our chances are good. It is, after all, a 2015 Manifesto pledge. But there are others, joined by The Daily Mail, who would wish it away.

And what level of funding will 0.7% deliver if our economy contracts and the value of sterling falls? THET, a medium-sized charity, and our partners, are already feeling the effects of unfavourable exchange rates. It is deeply troubling.

The EU referendum and cabinet reshuffle has also delayed decision-making in DFID. 14 months in to the life of the current UK government we are still unclear about their intentions in relation to most aspects of their development expenditure – multilateral, bilateral and in relation to civil society.

One way of defending the aid commitment is to seize the opportunity provided with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs are a useful communication tool. They are universal. It is just as important to address poverty in Caerphilly as we do in Mbale. It is not one or the other, either/or, over there or over here, it is simply, unequivocally, a fight to end poverty and improve health everywhere.

The SDGs point to the inter-connectedness of our world. As does the health partnership approach, with its emphasis on reciprocity and mutual benefit: the idea that all who engage in training health workers overseas benefit from the kind of professional growth that brings great benefits to our working lives back in the U.K.

However, a new rhetoric is emerging around ‘mutual benefit’ which risks distorting the purpose of aid. I am thinking in particular about the November 2015 publication 'UK aid: tackling global challenges in the national interest'. Here, poverty alleviation is listed as the fourth goal.

I am an enthusiast for the idea of recognising mutual benefit. THET’s new strategy places the concept of co-development at its heart. However, there is a risk, that in embracing the universality of the SDGs and defending the benefit we derive here in the UK from working overseas, aid priorities will be defined too much in terms of our own national interest, and not enough in favour of the governments and people of lower and middle-income countries.

A risk, in other words, that in defending aid from the attacks by the Daily Mail we’ll begin to think and sound too much like the Daily Mail.

It is therefore vital that those involved in health partnerships must be expert in striking the right balance. Alongside our clinical expertise we must be applying good international development practice. 

That is why THET has embarked on a journey of producing a policy paper which will articulate what the appropriate balance between UK national interest and benefit to aid-recipient countries should look like. This paper is being put together in collaboration with leading thinkers from the north and south, such as Lord Crisp, Professor Myles Wickstead, Jim Campbell at the World Health Organisation, and Dr Mliga from Tanzania.

The paper will be launched at our conference this October which will also throw light on striking the right balance through a series of peer-reviewed presentations.

The world is at a crossroads.

As individuals and institutions involved in the health partnership approach, we must:
  • Defend our historic 0.7% commitment to aid.
  • Promote the universality of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Strike the right balance between what we expect to give and what we hope to receive; I am unashamed in applying a mutual benefit lens to our work in global health, recognising the enormous benefit we derive as individuals and as UK institutions, but our work must be grounded in an analysis of what our host countries ask of us.

Now more than ever we must work with idealism to promote the value of aid, and to articulate a vision through health partnerships of how we all benefit from being part of a world bent on ending poverty.

This blog is based on a speech given at the Wales for Africa conference, which you can read on the THET website.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Sending our professionals overseas is one of the best things the NHS can do

Sending NHS staff overseas is as vital to the NHS as 0.7 per cent aid contribution is to UK plc.

Pulling up the drawbridge and looking after one’s own is a debate that’s gaining pace within the certain media, spurred on by calls that the straitened NHS needs every last penny.

Such reporters would thirst for the story that along with our hard earned cash, the Department for International Development invests in programmes that send our much needed and short on supply doctors, midwives and nurses overseas, too. Fuel on theDaily Mail’s pyre that directly instigated a parliamentary debate on the UK’s spend of 0.7 per cent on overseas aid last Monday.

But sending our UK trained health professionals overseas is one of the best thing the NHS can do right now. There’s no amount of efficiency awareness training that quite cuts through as a stint in an impoverished sub-Saharan hospital.

Comfort zone
Speaking of his time as chair of the first hospital in the country to be rated “Outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission, Mike Aaranson attests that sending his doctors to Zambia encouraged a more innovative and imaginative approach from those used to working in a more comfortable environment.

Speaking on the foreign aid expenditure debate, Conservative MP Steve Double said: “The truth is that this country gets great value for money from the aid”.
There are strong parallels with this argument to why more NHS trusts should send their staff abroad.

Independently audited data and feedback we have from NHS leaders, who invest their resources in our overseas clinician exchange programs, show improvements in skills, leadership and motivation that would be harder won elsewhere.

With the aim of creating a cadre of skilled leaders who will apply their skills on return the UK, one of our programs has led 150 NHS healthcare professionals to swap their UK role for six months of the working in Cambodia, Kenya, Nairobi or South Africa.

Since 2008, a steady stream of NHS professionals on this programe have worked on system-strengthening projects in partnership with local health care workers, contributing to improving healthcare in the local area in a sustainable way rather than providing direct clinical care.

Independently audited data and feedback we have from NHS leaders, who invest their resources in our overseas clinician exchange programs, show improvements in skills, leadership and motivation that would be harder won elsewhere

NHS Thames Valley and Wessex Leadership Academy has carried out an independent longitudinal analysis of the impact of this overseas experience on NHS professionals careers. The findings of which show an impact as long lasting and deep routed as the personal story MP Pauline Latham shared in the House on Monday, living with two abandoned Rwandan girls sharing one bowl between four in a mud floored hut for several days.

Desire for change
From retaining clinicians to stay in the NHS, to continuing to improve their clinical and leadership skills, the results attest to a seismic shift in how clinicians view their place in the healthcare system. When interviewed prior to taking their overseas placement 33 per cent said they ‘felt they were leaders’. On returning, this increased to 82 per cent.

In a questionnaire responded to by 107 of the 150 attendees, 91 per cent of respondents said the programme changed how they approached their current role. One detailed “[I am] less frustrated by system inefficiencies and [have] more desire to change them”, another “My self-awareness of my leadership and management skills has greatly increased and I am much more effective as a doctor on the ward.”

Newly qualified GP Charlie Gardiner shared with us directly about the programme that “I’ve learnt more in five months about leadership and service development, and all these really key skills, than I’ve learnt in five years in the UK.”

Health Partnership Scheme
In a detailed analysis of the skill sets improved by taking health professionals overseas, leadership is reported to be most strengthened. On questioning a representative sample of the 2,072 UK health workers who volunteered in a different exchange programme, the Health Partnership Scheme, 76 per cent reported improvements in developing leadership skills.

By opening up our minds, hearts and practice to our health professional peers overseas we are improving outcomes for patients at home

In this current global health climate, we are moving away from traditional forms of development and leaving behind old paternalistic models. To support this move, DfID has turbo charged a new model called health partnership.

These are a model for improving health and health services based on ideas of co-development between actors and institutions from different countries. The partnerships are long-term but not permanent and are based on ideas of reciprocal learning and mutual benefits

Working in this partnership-style has huge and varied impacts on the NHS back home. From the surprising finding shown by preliminary research conducted by Imperial that the imperative of need and dearth of procedures in middle to low income health economies is creating test beds of tech innovative.

To perhaps the more expected, that professionals saying time and time again, that the parred back environment brings about a crystalline focus on the power of their core clinical skills. By opening up our minds, hearts and practice to our health professional peers overseas we are improving outcomes for patients at home.

Ben Simms is CEO of Tropical Health and Education Trust.
Originally appeared on Health Service Journal. 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Collaborating to change behaviour in Mozambique

In this blog, Eleanor Bull, Health Psychologist, and Corina Mason, Trainee Health Psychologist, reflect on their recent experience working in partnership to change health worker practice at Beira Central Hospital, Mozambique. 

In 2016, as part of a new THET funded programme called the Change Exchange, health psychologists joined existing partnerships to help understand and change healthcare staff practice, helping to strengthen THET partnerships. As health psychology practitioners employed in NHS Grampian, we are fortunate to have broad roles in offering expertise in the complex task of changing health behaviour. Our practice includes patient interventions and research and training of professionals across prevention and self-management initiatives in public health and the acute sector.

Both of us had previously volunteered in Uganda, and were inspired by this fascinating programme. The cultural and personal learning opportunities from previous experience in Uganda had influenced our professional development. Following an article in ‘The Psychologist’ (the British Psychological Society monthly publication), we rushed to register our interest in working with a network of multi-disciplined professionals to improve the local health needs in a low income country.  The partnership approach particularly appealed to us as we observe in our daily practice the benefits of working in collaboration with our multi-disciplined colleagues.

From the outset, we were warmly welcomed into the partnership with great enthusiasm and interest from the fantastic team of health professionals at Ipswich Hospital and Beira Central hospital.  The partnership’s current aim is to improve patient safety through projects related to two key strands of work: medical equipment maintenance and medication safety. The Medical Director at Beira Central Hospital states, ‘this is important for us because hospital changes start in the mind of staff.’

Our role predominantly focuses on the complex strand of medication safety because the ideas being implemented by Beira Hospital professionals depend on changes in staff practice. Some initiatives include:

· adaptations to in-patient medication charts
· development and delivery of drug dosage calculation training
· availability of emergency drug boxes on each ward
During our visit to Beira Central hospital in June this year, we collected information from health professionals by conducting interviews, discussion groups and questionnaires with staff involved in implementing the new medication safety procedures. We observed drug dosage calculation training to understand its active ingredients, presented to Beira healthcare staff on the role of Health Psychology and the importance of behaviour in healthcare, and worked with our Ipswich partners to deliver training on antibiotic resistance.

Following data collection, we presented findings and recommendations based on health psychology to help the partners implement their excellent work. We were really pleased that health professionals in the partnership suggested our input to date has been valuable, as the Head of Nursing states,  ‘this is very good for all situations here (at the hospital) and is good that you made these observations as we are too busy to do this.’

This was an amazing and inspiring opportunity to develop our health psychology skills within a brilliant UK-African partnership. We are both incredibly grateful for this opportunity and particularly the invaluable help of our UK and Mozambican translators, as unfortunately our Portuguese still doesn’t stretch far beyond ‘Obrigado!’ We are now engaged in meetings on Skype and producing a report outlining our recommendations before a second planned visit in November to offer further help in changing staff practice. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Zambia: training health workers to make a difference

Sophie Pinder, Evaluation and Learning Officer at THET in London, shares her impressions following a recent monitoring visit to health partnership projects in Zambia which are funded through the DFID/THET Health Partnership Scheme (HPS).

In May 2016, my colleagues Pippa, Viki and I visited five health partnership projects in Zambia working on different health themes in major hospitals across the country. The week-long monitoring visit involved meeting local leads and stakeholders at the sites where these projects are being implemented.

Beyond the monitoring purpose of the trip, this was an excellent opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding of the local context these partnerships are working in, of the perspectives of local stakeholders and which direction they want to take their projects – aspects that can often be difficult to grasp just by reading project reports when sitting at my desk in London.

One of these projects is being implemented by the Zambian Union of Nurses Organisation (ZUNO) and the Royal College of Nursing in the UK. They established their partnership in 2012. Their project aims to build ZUNO’s capacity to influence nursing policy and improve nursing practice in Zambia. 
At the ZUNO offices in Lusaka, Jennifer Munsaka, Director of Programmes and Professional Affairs and lead for this project along with Rita Mutale, Programmes Officer, explained to us how the partnership has trained twelve staff members at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka in advocacy skills and supported them to become champions for the implementation of the WHO safe surgery checklist, enabling them to build their advocacy skills in practice. Not only did the champions go on to train 164 members of theatre staff to implement the checklist, they now form a strong collective voice to bring issues and needs, backed by evidence, to the attention of hospital management and advocate for improvements. Their work has also improved interdisciplinary team work and raised the profile of ZUNO at the University Teaching Hospital, the largest hospital in the country. 
The partnership now plans to train the regional directors of ZUNO in advocacy so that they can influence national policy. This expansion has the full support of ZUNO’s new General Secretary, Michelo Fray, who stressed how this project is in line with ZUNO’s strategy of empowering nurses and midwives and protecting and promoting their interests.

In the Eastern Province, Chipata General Hospital has been working in partnership with NHS Highlands since early 2014. The objective of their current HPS project is to empower communities to address mental issues through an improved understanding of mental ill health and how to provide a safe and supportive environment. Communications lead, Pearson Moyo and professional lead, Marron Mugala, introduced us to the hospital staff who are volunteering to deliver messages on mental health in 20 communities around Chipata. We participated in one of the mental health education sessions organised by the volunteers and I found that the community members were very active in the discussion and their answers reflected their awareness of how to deal with mental health issues. At the end of the session, they even told us that they hope this project would be extended to other communities in the region so that volunteers could continue to raise awareness on mental health. The volunteers come from different specialities and wards across the hospital and some of them live nearby or in the communities themselves. As such, I had the feeling that the entire hospital was mobilizing itself for this project and that this could raise the profile of psychiatry and mental health as a speciality with the hospital.

After every project we visited, I felt a real sense of commitment of those engaged, from the UK volunteers delivering training to hospital staff to health workers volunteering their time to drive the projects forward. All have the ambition to expand their work at regional or national level, despite the challenging environment and obstacles they face along the way. On a number of occasions, projects mentioned the lack of resources and workload, hospital budget cuts that are putting a clear strain on already over-stretched services and health workforce.

On a personal level, this visit has broadened my understanding of health partnership work on the ground. It has also inspired me and my colleagues to think more deeply about how THET can support health partnerships working in the same geographical area to collaborate with each other and how this can enable them to become stronger catalysts for change at national level. In light of this visit and others to come, my team and I are discussing how we can support partnerships to connect with each other and deepen their influence and impact.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Training the next generation of bio-meds

Chris Mol is a volunteer lecturer for THET’s BMET Programme. Here he describes his experience training the next generation of technologists in Zambia. 

I have now been working more than a year at, the Northern Technical College (NORTEC), in Ndola, Zambia. It has been an interesting year. This blog is to share my experiences and my enthusiasm for this attractive country and its friendly people as well as my findings on the world of medical equipment, which is so essential for modern healthcare.

This THET/DFID supported activity is based on a 2011 needs assessment in Zambian government hospitals which established that the medical equipment situation in the country was indeed quite poor.  Typically, only 50-65% of all medical equipment that is found in hospitals is functional. One of the root causes for this was found to be the absence of technical personnel who have been trained to repair medical equipment. No such training was available in the country.

Following up on this, THET has worked with the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Education to set up a training course for Biomedical Equipment Technologists (BMETs). NORTEC, one of the leading Technology Colleges in Zambia, was selected as the training institute to implement this new curriculum. The BMET course is for a good part based on course modules that were already given at NORTEC, such as on electronics, mathematics, and computer skills. THET has supported NORTEC by installing a BMET workshop, acquiring 2nd hand Medical Equipment for student practice, instruments/toolboxes and last but not least hiring and funding volunteer lecturers to present the Medical equipment specific lectures, this is where I come in.

NORTEC has now taken on 95 students, including 20 women, divided over the three years of the BMET curriculum. The first cohort will complete their studies at the end of 2016. THET is working with the Ministry of Health to ensure that new positions for BMETs will be created at the hospitals by 2017.

While working here at the College, visiting hospitals and talking to local experts, it has become clear to us that more needs to be done in the country to substantially improve the medical equipment situation. To have well-trained BMETs is certainly essential, but if the workshops at the hospital continue to be so poorly equipped, if the number of technical people in the hospital remains so limited (one technical person in a 700 bed hospital is common), if the procedures to purchase spare parts remain so cumbersome, only limited impact can be expected from well-trained BMETs.

Therefore, the THET focus is now moving from education only to also include hospital processes and decision making processes at the Ministry of Health. THET has acquired DFID funding to look further into these issues during 2016. It will be an interesting year. I will keep you posted. 

Working on equipment at Ndola Hospital, Zambia.