Digital platform transforms immunization worker training in Tanzania
Aziz Sheshe is the Regional Vaccine and Immunization Officer for Tanzania’s Arusha region. He has been working with the government’s immunization program for the past 15 years. Aziz oversees immunization services at more than 300 health facilities across the region, with almost 260,000 children falling under his jurisdiction. His commitment to and eagerness on the job led Aziz to be among the first of his colleagues to use a new immunization e- learning platform when it was launched and today, he is an advocate for the tool, training others on the platform.
“E-learning has helped me a lot in making my working life simple,” says Aziz. “I know where I can reach when I have questions on key program areas.”
The Tanzania government, supported by CHAI, first piloted the digital initiative in 2015. Called the Immunization and Vaccine Development (IVD) e-Learning Platform, the online tool was developed to train immunization officers across the country. It provides a complement to current face-to-face training, but with a comparative advantage: immunization officers can do the training from anywhere, providing a cost-savings in terms of travel to workshops and other related expenses. The platform also ensures uniformity of materials, meaning that all officers receive the same quality of training, as well as continuous access to training – a benefit to officers who previously could only attend training updates every one or two years.
To roll out the platform, national immunization officers trained a series of trainers who were then sent to 33 district councils in five regions to train district and regional officers like Aziz, who then passed on those learnings to the health workers he manages. As of March 2018, the program has been rolled out to 104 district councils, or 55 percent of all councils in the country. The government is continuing to scale up the program with another round of regional officer training. The officers will then be deployed once again to advocate for the tool in their communities.
Aziz says the platform has simplified his job. When it comes to training new colleagues in his region, he says, “I download the materials from the site and orient them during vaccine distribution and supportive supervision. I also send the materials to newcomers via email or print when needed after orientation.”
The IVD eLearning Platform can be accessed through a computer or mobile app and operates in both online and offline modes – essential for immunization officers traveling to remote places who cannot always rely on an internet connection.
The platform is interactive, with videos, quizzes and tests that measure trainees’ retention of the lessons, as well as the opportunity for trainees to reach out to instructors to seek clarification on items they don’t understand. There is also a forum where officers can share their experiences tackling challenges at work. Aziz recently received training on the HPV vaccine that is being introduced into Tanzania’s immunization program.
“I read about HPV vaccine…I attempted the quiz, which I passed very well,” says Aziz. “The chat forum has enabled me to interact with the facilitators as well as my colleagues. Thanks to this feature, I’ve learned a lot and was able to share my experience.”
To complement the discussion on the platform, a WhatsApp group, comprised of trainers and trained district and regional officers, is able to quickly address emerging issues in the field. Recently, for example, a district immunization officer raised the alarm about a specific model of refrigerator which was malfunctioning and freezing vaccines. Maintaining the cold chain is imperative to make sure vaccines are safe and effective. Many vaccines lose their ability to protect against disease after being frozen. The alarm raised during that WhatsApp discussion triggered a response at the national level which then looked to the manufacturer for a solution.
The platform continues to be developed in new ways, with recent additions including a collaboration with the firm Bull City Learning to embed short videos in training modules used widely during the introduction of the HPV vaccine program. The platform’s database is also being expanded to track the completed sessions and test scores of trainees and new incentives are being created to promote officers’ learning. For example, government recognition or certificates for those who pass their designated training modules each year. The modules and immunizations topics themselves will also continue to expand.
The IVD eLearning Platform has transformed the way Aziz and his colleagues in the immunization field are trained in Tanzania. It is easy to access for reference materials, can be used anywhere and anytime, and can customize and select topics according to learner needs. It also links peers through the WhatsApp community and eLearning discussion forums which officers can use to connect with each other to share essential information, get advice on difficult situations, and encourage each other as they continue their day to day work.