Catastrophic in many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic somehow became the silver lining for our public health institutions. When the virus was crippling our healthcare system, exposing our long-standing inefficacies and lack of political will to invest in the health sector, our people and manufacturing sector demonstrated amazing potential: we started making local, high quality protective gears and went on to produce invasive life support ventilators.
But much more needs doing. Our bewildered and floundering system has limited-to-none capacity to manage large-scale infectious diseases adversities. Diagnostic and therapeutic service delivery facilities are archaic and scarce and the almost non-existent training of the health workforce compounds the challenge. Even in private hospitals, continuous professional development of nursing and support staff is viewed as an expense rather an investment. And this neglect of capacity development hit us the most.
The importance of having a well-trained health human resource was another lesson we learned during the pandemic. It became evident that the foundation of quality healthcare services is strengthened through professional and efficient team of medics, paramedics, and support staff. Thus, the competencies of each team member must be continually upgraded through periodic trainings.
It’s always easier to train doctors, nurses and paramedics: they are better equipped vis-à-vis knowledge, instructions and skills, and understand the importance of professional development. The ancillary staff on the other hand is often least educated, untrained and underpaid. The intellectual delta between these groups is very challenging and often requires more effort and creativity to design training programmes for the latter group.
Covid-19 however, impelled everyone to upgrade their capacities and that too, rapidly. Technology was explored and utilised like never before. And despite the standard Third-World challenges which include inadequate infrastructure, out-dated equipment, poor connectivity and long interrupted power supply, we saw phenomenal increase in the use of technology over the past few months across sectors.
In the health sector, virtual training platforms created through public-private liaison became game changers. Internet-based online virtual assistance evolved extensively and was widely used across the country to train medics and paramedics for patient management and their own safety. Although an amazing paradigm shift, this change resulted out of adversity and not out of desire to improve. Therefore, it is critical to sustain and innovate within this sphere.
A vast potential for innovation within virtual training exists for upgrading the ancillary staff. It may sound surprising or even naïve to many as this group of healthcare workforce is usually poorly educated and lack digital literacy. I thought so too till my experience of training the ancillary staff of a local public hospital proved otherwise. After my initial attempt to use a PowerPoint slide deck with text in English — an utter failure — I decided to use animation. My experience and expertise with technology is limited yet I was able to cover a lot of ground. Imagine engaging production houses in developing training programmes.
The idea may appear strange, and relatively expensive; but think of the gains when done collectively. We lack dedicated medical education departments in both public and private sector; there are limited training programmes in the offing for healthcare workers; challenges of poor education and digital literacy are not going away soon; and physical distancing is to remain longer. Keeping this in view, hybridisation of conventional hands-on training approaches with virtual tools and system is the way forward. That can help in reaching out to more people quicker, and engage them on a regular basis.
So much more has be said and shared on healthcare challenges. But rhetoric is a bad substitute for action, and to be laudable we should never trust only rhetoric. It is time to stand up and start walking; mere talk is not enough anymore.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2020.
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