Success Story: eLearning Platform Fosters a New Career in Public Health
Tamunotonye Harry is a young digital health professional based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. After learning about the Global Health eLearning Center (GHeL) and taking a course on digital health, Tamunotonye connected with K4Health for information about our Global Digital Health Network. In this lightly edited interview, Tamunotonye explains how discovering GHeL has influenced his career path in a positive way.
How did your experience in the National Youth Service Corps engage you in mHealth work?
Tamunotonye Harry: I graduated from the University of Port Harcourt with a degree in Human Physiology in 2015. I had to wait a whole year before I was finally accepted into the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The one-year gap was actually a blessing as I used this time to gain work and volunteer experience, which involved building capacity for children with disabilities.
In NYSC, I was assigned to the Family Planning/Youth Friendly center at the General Hospital in Calabar, Cross River State. My primary responsibilities consisted of counselling youth as a peer educator, and helping couples and young adults understand how to use contraceptive methods.
One day, one of the nurses I worked with mentioned the Global Health eLearning (GHeL) platform. I immediately checked out the website and found the mHealth Basics: Introduction to Mobile Technology for Health course. It was a defining moment because previously, my only knowledge of an eHealth learning opportunity was for a scholarship to study eHealth in Germany, which I had seen advertised on Facebook. This was the point when everything I had researched about eHealth finally made sense.
While at university, I was thinking about doing an NYSC Community Development Service Project, and since everyone was doing either a medical outreach program or giving clothes to charity (activities that I found unsustainable considering the capital involved), I decided to create an online platform to educate people, especially youth, about basic contraceptive use.
Can you tell me about The Family Planning Project (FPP)?
Tamunotonye Harry: I day-dreamed about creating a project that would change the world, although thanks to the GHeL course I took, I knew that wouldn’t be easy. The FPP project was aimed at solving an information problem, which I had witnessed first-hand at the General Hospital. Cross River is estimated to be the state with the second highest amount of HIV/AIDS cases. Keeping in mind the economic crisis that hit Nigeria last year, this estimation isn’t far-fetched. I’ve interviewed low-income earners who told me that kids as young as twelve years old are engaging in sexual activities in Calabar. I would also often see teenagers far along in their pregnancy coming into the facility. This made it clear to me that there was an information gap, but that I probably wasn’t seeing the big picture.
My brother used basic coding to design the website and app, while I managed the content and website flow. We created the site ourselves in order to save costs, with the intention of improving the site if the unit agreed to implement our demo--although, the unit did not understand this and assumed I was going to profit personally.
With this website, I wanted people to feel comfortable discussing contraceptive use, and also improve access to family planning services by making available specific phone numbers of healthcare facilities. This would allow people to express any issues, book appointments, and ask questions that they would otherwise feel ashamed asking, eventually reducing societal stigmatization.
How did you find the K4Health mHealth resources? Can you talk about the nurse that shared this resource with you and how that came about?
Tamunotonye Harry: On days when there were fewer clients, staff in the Family Planning/Youth Friendly center would chat about different topics, especially courses to enhance our knowledge in health. A public health nurse who runs the Family Planning unit told me about the GHeL platform. She explained that she had learned about GHeL during a workshop she attended, hosted by an international NGO. So I checked it out and started taking courses, which has brought me to this point.
What were your key learnings from the GHeL mHealth basics course?
Tamunotonye Harry: One thing that stood out was that mHealth solutions are created when there is an information gap. I learned that a lot can be done with a simple mobile device, and that the key use of mobile technology in health is to strengthen healthcare systems. If your product doesn’t look to solve pain points in the health system, then you’re only contributing to the graveyard of unnecessary health applications sitting in the Apple and Android app stores.
How did finding the GHeL lead you to the course at MITx in ‘Designing Health Information Systems’?
Tamunotonye Harry: After completing GHeL’s mHealth basics course, I took another one on Social Media for Development and Health as well as other online courses on the Sustainable Development Goals through the SDSN platform.
This inspired me to write a Medium article, The Big Picture: Strengthening public health systems in Africa. It was a combination of the two courses I had taken on the GHeL platform (mHealth basics & Social media for Development and Health), a course from the SDG Academy, a platform created by SDSN “Planetary boundaries” and one from the UNCC Learn platform on “Human Health and Climate change”. It focused on the effects of climate change on health, the power of the internet and how the use of mobile phones can strengthen the healthcare system (referencing the GHeL course).
Yes, it featured on an online magazine called ‘Vunela’ but I felt I needed to understand the field more. I downloaded the edX application in November 2017 and found the eHealth course, ‘Designing Health Information Systems’, which I’ve almost completed. So far I’ve learned about the Millennium Village Project, OpenMRS, SanaMobile, Commcare, Clinical Decision Systems, EHRs, why Enterprise architecture is good for eHealth strategies and projects, Software Project Management methodologies with Agile and Waterfall--I could go on and on. I wrote an article called eHealth for Dummies:Those Who Want to Make a Difference half-way into this course. No amount of information on this topic would be too much. I want to earn a master’s degree in this field, and put this knowledge into practice.
What was the most useful information from GHeL?
Tamunotonye Harry: The section about using mobile technology to change behavioral patterns positively was intriguing. Overall, the platform provided a great introduction to mHealth with illustrations for better communication.
How has this affected your career path?
Tamunotonye Harry: My mom always asks if I’m going back to school to study a professional field, and I tell her that I’ve found a master’s program in health informatics. Here in Nigeria, if you’re in the health sector and not studying medicine, people think you’re wasting your time. I was interested in public health, and then I discovered health informatics, which brings technology into the equation. The GHeL platform has given me the foundation and confidence to pursue public health informatics.
At Davos 2018, we hear world leaders, development practitioners, and business professionals talking about the technology revolution. I want to learn more about this course so I can position myself in a field that is practically new and unknown in this part of the world. I want to be involved in policy-making that will drive my country to create eHealth strategies for strengthening the dilapidated system in which so many people are dying every day due to preventable problems. Back in school, while I was president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul–a group that reaches out to the poor and needy–we handled the case of an orphaned six-year-old boy Chinedu who was diagnosed with jaw cancer. They removed the lump, but a week later he died. And we found out that his condition had been misdiagnosed. Imagine what could have happened if they had a Clinical Decision Support System?
Thank you, Tamunotonye, for sharing your experiences! Do you have any final comments or insights on a career in digital health?
Tamunotonye Harry: People are scared of what they don’t know or they just don’t care. My friends in journalism and my brother who studied software engineering have been encouraging me to continue my pursuit of knowledge. People will look at me like I’m crazy, except I’m talking to techies who understand some of these concepts.
I’m a trainer in the Google Digital Skills for Africa program and whenever I train youth, I tell them to use eLearning platforms like GHeL because, I wouldn’t even be in contact with you if I hadn’t heard that nurse talking about GHeL.
Connect with Tamunotonye on Twitter: @harrytonye1