Anya J Nartker, Liz Stevens, Alyson Shumays, Martin Kalowela, Daniel Kisimbo, Katy Potter
Human Resources For Health, 2010
"Background Tanzania, like many developing countries, faces a crisis in human resources for health. The government has looked for ways to increase the number and skills of health workers, including using distance learning in their training. In 2008, the authors reviewed and assessed the country's current distance learning programmes for health care workers, as well as those in countries with similar human resource challenges, to determine the feasibility of distance learning to meet the need of an increased and more skilled health workforce.
Methods Data were collected from 25 distance learning programmes at health training institutions, universities, and non-governmental organizations throughout the country from May to August 2008. Methods included internet research; desk review; telephone, email and mail-in surveys; on-site observations; interviews with programme managers, instructors, students, information technology specialists, preceptors, health care workers and Ministry of Health and Social Welfare representatives; and a focus group with national HIV/AIDS care and treatment organizations.
Results Challenges include lack of guidelines for administrators, instructors and preceptors of distance learning programmes regarding roles and responsibilities; absence of competencies for clinical components of curricula; and technological constraints such as lack of access to computers and to the internet. Insufficient funding resulted in personnel shortages, lack of appropriate training for personnel, and lack of materials for students. Nonetheless, current and prospective students expressed overwhelming enthusiasm for scale-up of distance learning because of the unique financial and social benefits offered by these programs. Participants were retained as employees in their health care facilities, and remained in their communities and supported their families while advancing their careers. Space in health training institutions was freed up for new students entering in-residence pre-service training.
Conclusions A blended print-based distance learning model is most feasible at the national level due to current resource and infrastructure constraints. With an increase in staffing; improvement of infrastructure, coordination and curricula; and decentralization to the zonal or district level, distance learning can be an effective method to increase both the skills and the numbers of qualified health care workers capable of meeting the health care needs of the Tanzanian population. "