‘As public health emergencies have become more complex so have the responses – with local, national and international personnel involved, all bringing different backgrounds, cultures and levels of knowledge.

For WHO’s experts, it became clear that a crucial tool in the war against epidemics and pandemics would be getting timely, accurate, up-to-date information to the growing cadre of responders – regardless of how remote or difficult their location.

“The major epidemics we have seen this century highlighted the need for a system that quickly transforms scientific knowledge into action on the ground,” said Dr Gaya Gamhewage, Manager of WHO’s Support for Response team in the Department of Infectious Hazard Management. For epidemic disease, it is particularly important to make sure that responders and volunteers know how to protect themselves.

Actionable Knowledge
“The key is actionable knowledge,” adds Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of Infectious Hazard Management at WHO. “What we have is knowledge. For us the value of knowledge is when it is shared – and it is especially important that responders have enough knowledge to protect themselves and do good work. We had information on diseases like Plague, MERS and Ebola, we had a number of courses but they were on paper, not accessible from the field.”

To tackle this 21st century problem, WHO turned to a 21st century solution – the creation of a suite of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.

Since first emerging in the early 2000s, these courses have quickly become a popular internet-based learning tool for millions of people, who follow courses created by global experts and institutions that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, by anyone.

In June 2017, WHO publicly launched its own MOOC platform – OpenWHO – offering online courses specially tailored for health emergency responders. The space is interactive, allowing experiences and expertise to be shared and kept fresh via discussions and feedback.

“We don’t call it training – we call it knowledge transfer. OpenWHO allows us and our key partners to transfer life-saving knowledge to large numbers of frontline responders quickly and reliably,” said Dr Briand…

WHO partners with NGO Translators Without Borders who can translate into more than 122 different languages and dialects, as required. The most popular courses so far are those on the Incident Management System, Pandemic and Epidemic-prone Diseases, and Communications…

Up to 250,000 students can access the courses at any one time and an unlimited number can register on OpenWHO – so the plan is to develop and expand the platform’s content and reach.

“We want to establish OpenWHO as a leading, trusted source of public health information, which can react quickly to new health information needs as they arise,” says Dr Briand.

“Too many people have died from lack of knowledge. We want these online courses to help save lives.”

Best wishes, Neil

Let’s build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information – Join HIFA: www.hifa.org