Driving the Change: PEPFAR Fellows Reach Over 350,000 Nigerians

[A Fellow sensitizing Community leaders on role of men in PMTCT]A Fellow sensitizing Community leaders on role of men in PMTCTIn Nigeria – 135 men and women are now energized with a personal commitment to have a health impact on their colleagues, workplaces, and communities. These individuals are taking part in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Health Professionals Fellowship Program. The participants are trained in a unique eight-week program which began in 2008 under the Leadership, Management and Sustainability (LMS) Capacity Building Project and is designed and managed by Management Sciences for Health (MSH). The program transforms healthcare workers into change-agents in facilities across Nigeria. The Fellowship program is funded by USAID/Nigeria.

From April 12 to June 2, 2010, the MSH Fellowship team trained its fifth set of cohorts – 28 health professionals providing Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV & AIDS services in 28 facilities in 20 states in Nigeria.  The program trained participants to help them think, reflect, and act positively in the face of the numerous challenges they encounter.

The goal of the Fellowship program is to provide health professionals with the tools and skills to respond to challenges in the fight against HIV & AIDS. The fellows undertake classroom study using case studies and interactive exercises. They are trained in leadership and management; professional excellence; HIV & AIDS care, treatment, and prevention; and the use of computers for research, data gathering, reporting and communication. The fellows also take part in practical hands-on training in health facilities. Community-based learning is a key part of the program and participants volunteer their services in community settings including health centers, orphanages, and prisons. Fellows are also assigned a mentor who provides one-on-one counseling, guidance, and continued support after graduation.

Dr. Abdulkarim Suraj, TB Coordinator, Gombe State, describes his Fellowship experience, as “fantastic - really worth doing.” To him, the program has complemented his Masters in Public Health training by filling “gaps in areas like emotional intelligence, leadership-skills building, advocacy, and activity implementation.”

At a Fellowship program reunion in March, MSH Country Director, Dr. Barry Smith, attributed the success of the Fellowship program to the quality of participants, describing them as “individuals chosen because of their desire to serve.”  Dr. Smith said that by the end of the first step-down program last year, 81 cohorts had reached over 300,000 people; an average of almost 4,000 people per cohort over an 18-month period.

By June 2010, the trainees had shared their skills with over 350,000 people and they had helped benefit facilities and communities by reducing  client-waiting time, increasing drug-adherence rates, improving staff-client relationships, and reducing mortality rates for HIV-positive persons in Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, amongst other milestones.

Professor Charles Boromeo Uwakwe, Advisory Board  member of the MSH-PEPFAR Fellowship and coordinator of the Fellowship Mentors, stresses that “human capacity is critical in driving the change we seek in the Nigerian healthcare system,”  when funds or equipment are not effectively or professionally used “we can’t achieve our goals.”

The Fellowship, he adds, focuses on “intrinsic values each individual has, seeking people who are motivated towards change: we don’t expect people to move mountains or hunt lions in the corridors of their facilities, but simply to effect change within the manageable context of their sphere.”