Digital tools for training frontline health workers in low and middle-income countries: A systematic review

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The World Health Organization (WHO) has forecast a global shortage of health workers by 2030, predominantly affecting low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This sits in tension with the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 3 (healthy lives and well-being) through universal health coverage (UHC). To address this problem, the WHO encourages task shifting, recruitment, training, and deployment of health workers. In lowand middle-income countries (LMICs), frontline health workers (FLHWs) are responsible for expanding the reach of the health system and providing crucial reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) services. Adequate and appropriate training is fundamental to the success of FLHWs, particularly in contexts where their scope of work may evolve or expand over time. Digital health solutions (defined as the use of digital, mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health objectives) are increasingly being used to support the training of FLHWs. Strategies may rely on use of digital tools, including mobile phones, as the primary modality for training or as tools which augment traditional face-to-face instruction. Digital health has potential for FLHW training as it allows for listening, learning and teaching through interactive health content accessible even on basic mobile phones. This dissertation explored the literature on FLHWs in LMICs, digital health in LMICs, digital health used by FLHWs, and digital health used for training of FLHWs in LMICs. The journal “ready” component is a systematic review which discusses the various aspects of digital training for FLHWs in LMICs. For the purposes of the systematic review, seven electronic databases were searched for articles published in English from 2008-2018. Combinations of medical subheadings (MeSH) that were used were: “mHealth”, “health worker”, “community health worker” and “low- and middle-income country”. From a total of 2628 identified studies, abstracts were screened with four filters to identify studies about “training”, and eventually a total of 16 studies were included. The included studies were critically appraised and coded descriptively to enable a narrative synthesis of findings. Of the sixteen studies, twelve used mobile and/or smartphones for FLHW training. A wide range of digital platforms were used to provide information (and where relevant enable interaction). Duration of training programs varied from five days to six months. Training content was relevant to the various health services and practice areas the FLHWs worked in. Training focused on continuing education through in-service training of new content or in-service refresher courses. Three training pedagogies were used: 1) didactic training techniques – in four studies information was provided passively without an interactive component; 2) interactive training techniques – six studies used platforms to provide information along with an interactive component via multi-media; and, 3) blended-learning approach – six studies delivered training via didactic and interactive approaches by combining live and distance training. Consistent with the literature review, all studies reported increased knowledge and positive perceptions of digital health for FLHW training. Interactive and blended learning approaches, especially when accessed through mHealth technologies, are feasible, effective, appropriate, cost effective and scalable in LMICs. The conclusion from the literature and systematic reviews were that long-term effects (e.g. change in behaviour, improved service provision) need to be researched further.