Small island developing States in the Pacific and their remote island communities are often unable to access the highest-quality health-care education and the latest techniques in disease control and treatment. Medical schools often need to upgrade their educational programmes, and as a result, physicians and medical experts lack the skills and information that they need to treat patients adequately. (http://www.wpro.who.int/southpacific/programmes/pacific_initiatives/polhn/en/)
Towards a Solution
In 2003, the ministers of health of the Pacific small island developing States came together to create the Pacific Open Learning Health Net(POLHN). POLHNworkstoensure that health professionals have access to the continuing professional development that they need. It also builds capacity among local and regional academic institutions to develop and deliver online, continuing professional development programmes. Since its creation, POLHN has been delivering democratic, equitable, scalable and localized online, continuing professional educational courses to health-care professionals in the Pacific countries.
As a regional collaboration mechanism built on South-South cooperation and based at Fiji National University, POLHN has been accepting Pacific regional students under the same conditions as national students, and it has presented rich opportunities for POLHN country coordinators to learn from one another by sharing practices and experiences through workshops, exchanges and field visits.
The POLHN model is embedded into the Ministry of Health training plan and is guided by the Human Resources for Health plan. POLHN Internet-supported learning centres are managed by ministries of health and located in their facilities. Online courses are developed in partnership with local universities and ministries of health. The courses are marketed via the POLHN website, the Moodle learning/teaching platform, social media, e-mails and licensure boards.
Since its establishment, POLHN has undergone an external assessment, which has shown that the pilot project was a success, with growing demand from countries to sustain it and deliver additional courses. POLHN has 45 Internet-supported learning centres in 14 Pacific island countries and areas. Course subscriptions are validated through the POLHN country coordinators annual report and the Moodle student management system. Currently, POLHN has approximately 20,000 online course subscribers and has experienced continuous demand for more online courses from health workers, ministries of health and licensure boards.
POLHN enables health workers to learn while they work, thereby boosting staff retention. It is cost-effective and offers learning opportunities to those who cannot travel abroad. POLHN has created a regional learning network and enables extensive sharing of learning materials and courses to low-coverage areas. The programme has had three broad phases in countries during which it: (a) relies completely on donor funds; (b) benefits from cost-sharing among ministries of health, licensure boards and donors; and (c) is independently managed by ministries of health and licensure boards. POLHN is currently in its second phase in most countries. In Fiji, it is moving towards phase three.
The developing countries in the Pacific small island region have adopted and implemented POLHN without too much difficulty. While Fiji has led with the pilot phase, 14 Pacific island countries and areas have also adopted the programme, and other Asian countries have shown interest in taking an approach similar to that of POLHN. Main partners include Pacific ministries of health and WHO, which provide financing and technical support, along with universities, licensure boards and health workers.
Sustainable Development Goal targets: 3.c, 4.3, 4.4, 17.6, 17.9
Countries/territories involved: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of ), Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, American Samoa, Guam
Supported by: WHO
Implementing entities: WHO, Pacific island ministries of health
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 2003 to present
URL of the practice: http://polhn.org/
Name: Mr. Mohammed Yasin, Technical Officer, Pacific Open Learning Health Net, Division of Pacific Technical Support