The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) at Imperial College London, is a non-profit initiative that works with Ministries of Health and Education in sub-Saharan African countries and Yemen. It supports and evaluates treatment programmes for schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis and since its foundation in 2002 has supported the delivery of over 140 million treatments.
The building blocks of health systems
The World Health Organization has identified six key building blocks, which make up a strong health system:
- leadership and governance
- health care financing
- health workforce
- medical products and technologies
- information and research
- service delivery
However, during the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a key problem was highlighted: a lack of strong leadership and governance can result in the health systems of a country quickly deteriorating which in turn, threatens the health of the population. It appears that without strengthening leadership and governance first, the remaining pillars of a strong health system can fail.
Learning to lead
Numerous studies have been published on the importance of leadership training for the ministry of health staff. However, teaching on the topic is unfortunately not often recognised as a key part of tackling health problems and can be excluded from health improvement strategies.
Leadership training has become a necessity in the healthcare world as many countries are facing important public health issues and the clinicians are asked to take more responsibility that exceeds their level of training.
Through workshops and programmes, leadership is a topic that can be taught at different levels of a health system, from nurses to medical doctors. Studies on leadership training have revealed an association between strong local leadership and positive health outcomes. However, evaluation of the content and best delivery methods of leadership training programmes themselves have not been a focus.
Advocating for change
The team at SCI has recognised this problem and has focused one of its key operational research projects on the development and evaluation of a leadership-training course designed for Ministry of Health staff members working on treatment programmes against neglected tropical diseases.
The training will aim to ensure that anyone working in a healthcare system feels empowered to influence a decision. It is then expected that they will become a catalyst for change and lead others.
The research will evaluate whether the effective delivery of the training course can contribute to a change of practice and behaviour, to improve the management of treatment programmes against schistosomiasis and to ensure they are more sustainable through greater ownership.
“It is our ambition to strengthen health systems in the countries we work with, to empower our in-country partners and give them the confidence to take the lead in their treatment programmes.”
Nadia Ben Meriem, SCI Programme Advisor for Cote d’Ivoire and research project lead
In July 2017, 15 staff members from the Ministry of Health in Cote d’Ivoire took part in the leadership-training course given by Ms Nadia Ben Meriem, SCI Programme Advisor. They built a national action plan, which will be used as a benchmark to measure the future impact of the SCI leadership programme.
“With this training, I feel I have gained confidence. The training captured the attention of the audience during all sessions, with great examples that were easy to follow, allowing all to participate and interact.”
Dr Aboulaye Meite, Cote d’Ivoire’s National Coordinator
The research will conclude in 2018, with research findings to be published in 2019.