Having noticed a huge gap in knowledge between Educational Health Officers across the country, the Zambia Institute of Environmental Health partnered with the Central Institute of Environmental Health, UK to establish a programme to breach this difference.

Zambia’s knowledge gap

Since its inception in the 1970’s, Environmental Health Education had only been offered at diploma levels in two colleges in Zambia. Every year the enrolment levels continue to increase and currently approximately 70 students graduate in these colleges as either Environmental Officers or Technologists.

With various outbreaks of endemic diseases such as cholera, typhoid, bilharzias and diarrhoea, (especially in children), additional investment in environmental health has been vital; in fact, this has led in part to the introduction of a 5-year degree programme in the discipline.

The professionals that graduate at diploma level are normally posted to work in Rural Health centres whilst the other degree holders are normally posted to the bigger District hospitals. Since the recent degree programme was introduced, it has incorporated new developments in the discipline as well as providing students with more exposure and access to information. This has led to the creation of a large knowledge gap between those that graduated more than ten years ago and those that are graduating under the new programme.

The Link: narrowing the gap

A needs assessment survey covering all nine provinces was undertaken, and 13 areas of knowledge were identified as needing to be addressed. The top 4 courses were:

1. Basic knowledge in IT (as some had never used a computer)
2. Conducting Research
3. Occupational Health and Safety
4. Food Security

Due to the size and spread of the country as well as project budget limitations, a Train the Trainers approach was adopted in the hope that those trained could then increase the number of skilled workers throughout the country. Since the inception of the project 3 trainings have been conducted by resources from the UK.

The first Train the Trainers workshop saw 20 practitioners from all over the country being trained in teaching and facilitation skills.

Two further trainings have followed and focused on ‘Impact Assessment’ and ‘Occupational Health and Safety.’

Making a difference

Ms Kaziya – Mansa Chief Environmental Health Officer, narrates her experience from the training:

‘the training was very practical and relevant, what I remember most are the role play sessions where we had to choose a topic that we could facilitate in the field; highlighted the issue of resistance to change. The reason being in the rural areas when you go to facilitate a programme there is usually resistance because of long standing social cultural factors. My main learning points were the approach to use for these people which is the participatory methodology.’

Mr. Mbewe, the Link coordinator in Zambia, now ascertains a substantial gain in knowledge, and the team is in the process of designing its own trainings which it will then disseminate at provincial, district and rural health centres or posts. These will be facilitated by local resources after gaining skills from the UK partners.

Mr. Mbewe further states that they are looking at other means in which these professionals can access information other than face to face training, and they are currently looking to develop an ICT-related solution which might help. Channels that are planned are mail shots for provincial and district levels, and hard copy newsletters for more remote health posts. Social networking forums are also an option that is being explored via the phones as this is a form of communication that is expanding rapidly in the country.

ILHFS Team, British Council Zambia