Netbooks empower community health workers to improve health in Bangladesh’s poorest communities
With a population of 150 million, Bangladesh is a bustling country filled with vibrant people. On a recent trip to Dhaka and Chittagong we experienced first-hand the kindness and welcoming spirit of the country. The goal of our trip was to meet with various USAID implementing partners, and several units within the Ministry of Family Health and Welfare to find out more about their behavior change communication work. Developing high quality, evidence-based communication campaigns that promote healthy behaviors is quite a challenge for Bangladesh with their large population, numerous rural communities, and with so many health issues that need to be addressed. These health areas range from improved antenatal and postnatal care, family planning, nutrition, and child health. USAID implementing partners and the Ministry of Family Health and Welfare are now streamlining their health communications work, making sure their messages are in agreement, effective, and accessible to a range of people of all ages and educational backgrounds.
A key part in this new effort was the launch of a three-month eHealth pilot program, developed by Johns Hopkins University – Center for Communication Programs in partner with Eminence, the Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with funding from USAID. The pilot will take place in Sylhet and Chittagong where 300 community health workers have received a netbook computer loaded with several eToolkits that contain a digital library of communication materials in maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition, and eight eLearning courses. The eToolkit includes 116 materials and tools which were selected by a team after a detailed assessment and review. The eToolkit will improve the quality and effectiveness of counseling visits that the community health workers have with their clients, while replacing the heavy materials they previously carried from house to house. The eight eLearning courses on the netbooks are meant to supplement the training that community health workers currently receive. Each course also includes an assessment designed to measure changes in the knowledge and skills of community health workers.
The eHealth pilot is one of the first large steps towards achieving a Digital Bangladesh by 2021. The use of digital resources will help extend the reach of key messages for health, population, and nutrition. In early April, colorful balloons and banners welcomed guests to the launch event for the pilot program in Chittagong. Here we witnessed the ceremonially hand-off of ten netbooks to community health workers before an audience of more than100 guests who were excited and engaged, asking interesting technical questions and offering suggestions for future iterations of the project.
On April 20-21, the first 30 community health workers attended an orientation, learned to use the netbook, and navigate the eToolkit and eLearning courses. Facilitators led an interactive orientation to ensure the community health workers felt comfortable operating the netbooks. There was much enthusiasm for the eHealth pilot program from the field workers during the orientation, who shared they felt empowered, informed, and energized to continue their important work.