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Q&A: Amid COVID-19, how countries are learning from each other in real time

Evidence shows that COVID-19 is disrupting the delivery of essential health services for women, children and adolescents, putting millions of women and children at risk. To help GFF partner countries mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, the GFF is deploying its robust knowledge and learning platform to enable countries to share experiences and take actions to protect essential services as part of their COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. We spoke to the lead of GFF’s Knowledge & Learning program, Petra Vergeer, to learn more about how the GFF is facilitating knowledge sharing across countries:

Q1: What is the GFF doing to help countries learn from each other’s experiences to maintain essential health services during COVID-19?  

As part of our  COVID-19 pandemic response, we quickly established a learning exchange program for countries to share lessons in real-time. Through the Service Delivery Learning Program (SDLP) we are supporting countries’ efforts to maintain essential services for women and children, as knew from previous experiences that disease outbreaks affect access and the delivery of these essential services.

The SDLP is a three-week program that combines webinars, country cluster workshops, country sessions, and online discussion forums. Participants include officials from Ministries of Health, technical partners, financiers, World Bank team leads, private sector and civil society representatives, and other key stakeholders. The program combines critical topical knowledge with individual country reflections, and discussions with peers from other countries to share ideas, identify bottlenecks and brainstorm on solutions.

Q2: How has the program helped countries take action to protect essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Through individual country workshops countries are asked to  critically reflect on what they learned from other countries and decide what might be appropriate action in their particular context. By the end of the program, some countries improved measures to provide services while maintaining social distancing, others enhanced the use of mobile technology to facilitate telemedicine, while others reflected on how to better use and integrate Community Health Workers to strengthen continuity of services.

Over 90 participants from nine countries took part in the first round of this program: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Another 90 participants have joined for the second round of the program which includes representatives from Guatemala, Haiti, Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea, Chad, Madagascar, Malawi, Ghana and Somalia.

Q3: What feedback have you received from participants to help make the program even more responsive to their needs? 

They asked for further support in creating change through actions that are implementable and that fit the context, policy and health strategies of their countries. We also hear from participants about the importance of being able to connect with decision makers and to do so quickly. Furthermore, they suggest the use of communities of practice to enhance continued collaboration and learning from one another.

The second round of SDLP has already incorporated a lot of this feedback. In particular, we very quickly make available key take-aways from each webinar that enable participants share with them decision makers in (almost) real time. We also build specific thinking into the change plan by the country team how they will liaise these key findings and possible strategic changes to be implemented with decision-makers, as much as possible supported by data on utilization of essential services.

Feedback received also confirmed that, rather than theoretical approaches and institutional guidance, country platform representatives and leaders in the countries are really looking for examples of good practices from other countries to address the current challenges and that the SDLP offered this to them.

Q4: How do you see this program evolving?

The focus of the program is to help identify and support the implementation of new ways to deliver services safely in health facilities and to reduce unnecessary visits. We do this by asking Ministries of Health and other partner organizations to share good practices which address these common challenges. We furthermore are creating through this program a cross-country community of experts and leaders that provide peer-to-peer support and access to expert advice. This is critical as we know change does not just come from providing knowledge.

The content and practical activities of the program also help participants reinforce some transversal skills such as the use of data to inform decision making, systems thinking and online collaboration.

It’s important to have a follow up process and in this case that includes, keeping the online platform active and doing regular progress check-ins with the countries in the SDLP community to see what works and where further support and exchanges of experiences will be beneficial. We also hope that this program will be customized and used by others. We will continue building on this as the SDLP is one of several activities in our new Knowledge & Learning Strategy that aims to enhance competencies of GFF stakeholders to catalyze country-led change.