Scientists as Peer-Educators: Building eLearning Skills in Nigeria
There are more than 17,000 certified medical laboratory scientists working in Nigeria today. They are champions in the fight to contain and eliminate infectious diseases, like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria. Their rigorous education goes a long way in developing their skills, but where can they turn to stay up-to-date on the latest information, guidance, and techniques after their university days? Keeping abreast of new advances is critical, and access to information is more important than ever. The Government of Nigeria requires medical laboratory scientists to renew their practicing license every year by earning continuing professional development (CPD) credits, but there is no organized process for providing opportunities to those scientists who are unable to attend face-to-face conferences and workshops.
USAID Nigeria and K4Health are working to address this gap, in partnership with the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) and the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN). Together, they are creating eLearning courses on the most up-to-date developments in HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria diagnosis, and quality improvement in clinical laboratories.
As part of this project, K4Health is building the capacity of AMLSN content experts in eLearning instructional design and course development, and working with the MLSCN to develop and implement an updated CPD policy.
In January 2012, the AMLSN held a press conference to mark the project’s official kick-off. Dr. Godswill C. Okara, National President of the AMLSN, described the project as a bold step that hopes “to ensure that medical laboratory scientists remain at the cutting edge of professional knowledge and competence to render accurate and reliable diagnostic laboratory services to the patient.”
Dr. Okara’s words were echoed throughout the workshop that took place in Abuja from January 30 to February 3, 2012. Members of K4Health’s eLearning team worked with AMLSN technical experts to start the course development process for the project’s first four courses. Following a successful training that yielded outlines for the four courses, the course developers returned to their respective institutions where they will continue to develop the course material with remote technical assistance from K4Health.
This Nigerian-owned and -led project is a true partnership; it places a large amount of responsibility on the local partners. The spirit of collaboration and responsibility among the partners has created a creative and productive space. Participants feel this project has potential to transform the way in which professional organizations and fields of study can communicate, learn, and monitor their growth. Most importantly, the stakeholders involved realize that this is a chance to improve the practices for medical laboratory scientist communities in Nigeria—and around the world.. In the words of Dr. Okara, it is an opportunity to “cultivate the habit of the pursuit of excellence in professional practice in the interest of the patient and the society.”
As Africa’s most populous country—the 7th most populous in the world, expected to pass 170 million in 2012—Nigeria has faced considerable challenges in addressing the needs of a population that grows at an annual rate of over 2.5% . Although Nigeria is among a select few African countries that have parlayed their wealth of natural resources into considerable economic and political clout in the international community, resources are still limited for addressing health crises like the HIV pandemic. While Nigeria’s 3.6% HIV-positive prevalence rate  is comparatively low among African countries, the sheer volume of population means that around 3 million people in Nigeria currently live with HIV, with over 330,000 new infections being reported each year.
Recent economic and cultural strife in Nigeria has made news headlines worldwide. It may be easy to observe these issues from afar and conclude that its citizens must feel powerless to effect change. However, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Nigeria’s education and health sectors who remain committed to improving the lives of their compatriots. Educators and health professionals alike are hungry for access to information that will help them augment their existing skill sets and enable them to carry the country forward to a healthier future.
 CIA World Factbook, 2012; accessed at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ni.html, February 2012
 United Nations General Assembly Special Session Country Progress Report - Nigeria, p. 16.UNAIDS, March 2010. Accessed at http://www.unaids.org/en/dataanalysis/monitoringcountryprogress/2010progressreportssubmittedbycountries/Nigeria_UNGASS_2010_Final_Country_Report_20110604.pdf, February 2012.
Image credits: Scientist at microscope image by David Davies-Deis. AMLSN Press Conference image courtesy of AMLSN.