The Summer Institute, mentioned here, drew to a close last week and while attending a session on final presentations by the participants, I was struck by how participants, depending on their backgrounds, benefited differently from the course and took away unique learnings.
For instance, one participant, Daddi Jima Wayessa, Head of Malaria and other Vector-borne Diseases Prevention and Control Team in the Ministry of Health, Ethiopia, plans on launching a similar national and district level course in his country, which would draw from the curriculum of the Summer Institute but would be adapted to the Ethiopian context. Such a course would enable health professionals in his country to identify risks, target priority areas, and make use of the existing meteorological and health information in the management of public health concerns. This training would then provide a base for developing an epidemic forecast warning system for several diseases such as malaria, meningitis etc in Ethiopia.
Another participant, Rachel Lowe, from University of Exeter, UK, researches on the viability of using seasonal climate forecasts to predict disease risk in Brazil, especially from dengue which imposes a huge burden on health services in the country. For Lowe, the key takeaways from the workshop were learning about cluster analysis to analyze similarly behaving regions together, exploratory time series analysis to identify trends, smoothing, removing seasonal cycles etc, and use of the climate prediction tool to help use coarse resolution forecasts to make predictions at the station level, among others.
Participants agreed that the course had greatly facilitated in making them aware of the huge existing resources on health and climate and the ways in which they could be incorporated into their work. James Sang, from the Division of Malaria Control, Department of Public Health, in Nairobi, Kenya was interested in learning about tools that could be practically used for providing solutions at the ground level. Coming from the operational side, he shared his own experiences from the ground and how most public health researches were unaware of the several roadblocks at the implementation stage, despite a fool-proof solution on paper.
Further, participants promised to share their new knowledge with colleagues and partners in their home countries and continue to forge collaborations with national and international institutions. Finally, one of the biggest learning for most was in the ability to estimate risks through use of risk estimation models using climate parameters – this was important because identification of risk and its quantification were directly connected with prioritizing and allocation of resources, with designing and aiding interventions, and with identifying costs and determining the capacity to react.
Every participant that came for this course came from a dissimilar background and with singular needs and expectations from it. Participants came to share and find solutions to the difficulties they faced in their operations from lack of climate and health data and resources, limited knowledge of new technology, inadequate government support, and poor coordination among health stakeholders at various bureaucratic and institutional levels. The Summer Institute has done a great job of catering to their differing needs and yet making them understand the collective challenges that they faced and the opportunities that existed in working together.