Humanitarian Health Lessons Learned: Ebola

Why learning is key to the strategic shift in how the world manages health crises

Reda Sadki Global public health

This is the second in a series of five blog posts reflecting on what is at stake in how we learn lessons from the Ebola crisis that erupted in 2014 and continued in 2015. A new blog post will be published each morning this week (subscribe here).

“Whereas health is considered the sovereign responsibility of countries, the means to fulfill this responsibility are increasingly global, and require international collective action and effective and efficient governance of the global health system.” (Stocking 2015:10)

“Effective crisis management for health”, writes the World Health Organization in its management response to the Stocking report, “requires a series of strategic shifts” (Chan 2015:5). Calls for substantial modernization of emergency management capacity and preparedness have focused on resources to ensure rapid mobilization for the provision of logistics, operational support, and community mobilization. Yet, “the primary lesson so far has not been about the need for new response methods, but about human resources and coordination”, wrote Anna Petherick in The Lancet in February 2015. “Building new treatment centres,” she concludes, “was an easy task [sic] next to training and supervising people to staff them” (Petherick 2015:592). In other words, how we learn is key to the strategic shift in how the world manages health crises.

Learning is the implicit process required to achieve the capacities sought. In-service training, the most prevalent form of formal learning, is only the tip of the iceberg. Every time we ask “how do we change the capacity of individuals and systems?”, we are asking about how we learn (pedagogy) and how we know what we know (epistemology). For example, learning, education and training (LET) are not mentioned at all in the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR). Learning is the implicit process required to achieve the capacities described by the Regulations. And yet, we leave tacit the processes (the “how”) which enable the acquisition and sharing of knowledge, skills and behaviors (competencies) needed in order for the health workforce and affected communities to face a health crisis.

In Wednesday’s blog post, we’ll review online learning around Ebola so far – and examine whether such initiatives can contribute to the strategic shift in human resources and coordination.  

References

Chan, Margaret. “WHO Secretariat Response to the Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel.” Geneva: World Health Organization, August 2015.
Stocking, Barbara. “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel.” Geneva: World Health Organization, July 2015.
Petherick, Anna. “Ebola in West Africa: Learning the Lessons.” The Lancet 385, no. 9968 (February 2015): 591–92. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60075-7.