Protect Invest Together

Protect, invest, together: strengthening health workforce through new learning models

Reda SadkiGlobal health

In “Prioritising the health and care workforce shortage: protect, invest, together,” Agyeman-Manu et al. assert that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated longstanding health workforce deficiencies globally, especially in under-resourced nations. 

With projected shortages of 10 million health workers concentrated in Africa and the Middle East by 2030, the authors urgently call for policymakers to commit to retaining and expanding national health workforces. 

They propose common-sense solutions: increased, coordinated financing and collaboration across government agencies managing health, finance, economic development, education and labor portfolios.

But how can such interconnected, long-term investments be designed for maximum sustainable impact?

And what is the role of education?

Rethinking health worker learning

In a 2021 WHO survey across 159 countries, most health workers reported lacking adequate training to respond effectively to pandemic demands. This exposed systemic weaknesses in how health workforces develop skills at scale. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, limitations of traditional learning approaches were already obvious.

Prevailing modalities overly rely on passive knowledge transfer rather than active learner empowerment and engagement with real-world complexities. While assessment and credentialing are important, ultimately learning must be judged by its relevance, application and impact on people’s lives and health systems.

Between April and June 2020, I had the privilege of working with a group of 600 of Scholars of The Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF) from 86 countries. Together, we designed an immersive learning cycle integrating skill-building and peer exchange for those on the frontlines of the epidemic. We called it the “COVID-19 Peer Hub”. 

It grew into an ecosystem that connected over 6,000 health professionals across 86 countries to share unfiltered insights, give voice to on-the-ground needs, and turn shared experience into action.

Within three months, a third of participants had already implemented COVID-19 recovery plans, citing peer support as the main driver for turning their commitment into results.

By the end of 2020, TGLF’s immunization platform, network, and community had tripled in size.

In 2022, this network transformed into a Movement for Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030).

Informing health workforce decisions

What insights can health workforce policymakers draw from the Geneva Learning Foundation’s unique work to achieve the ambitious growth and support targets outlined by Agyeman-Manu et al.?

First, expert-driven, top-down  approaches alone cannot handle emergent real-world complexities. In TGLF’s learning cycles, the most significant learning often occurs in lateral, one-to-one networking meetings between peers. These defy boundaries of geography, gender, ethnicity, religion, and job roles.

Second, thoughtfully-applied technology can exponentially accelerate learning’s reach, access and connections following learner needs. New digital modalities opened by pandemic disruptions must be sustained and optimized post-crisis, despite the tendency to revert back to previous norms of learning through high-cost, low-volume formal trainings and workshop.

Third, relevance heightens learning and application. Learning and teaching should not just be centered on learners’ needs and problems to boost motivation and effectiveness. Learning cannot be detached from its context.

Finally, nurturing cultures that support effective learning matters for performance and human achievement. Systems enabling peer reward and accountability build resilience.

Protect, invest, together in a learning workforce

Health policymakers are manifesting intent to act on the health workforce crisis.

Alongside urgent investments, applying systemic perspectives from learning innovations like those The Geneva Learning Foundation has pioneered presents a path to growing motivated, capable workforces ready for the challenges ahead.

Rethinking assumptions opens eyes – when we commit to support health workers holistically, the rewards radiate across health ecosystems.

Reference: Agyeman-Manu et al. Prioritising the health and care workforce shortage: protect, invest, together. The Lancet Global Health (2023).