Equipping the World’s Largest Youth Demographic with Future-Proof Medical Training

by Houbeb Ajmi, Regional CEO, Honoris United Universities

As we approach the end of 2020, a year with unforeseen global health challenges, international commentators are often asking, how did Africa retain its innate resilience in the fight against COVID-19? Despite under-staffed and under-resourced healthcare systems across the continent, the data shows a promising outlook in how countries reacted to and contained the virus. But this by no means should be taken for granted.

Preparing Africa’s growing youth population for a continually changing world of work is one of the biggest tasks facing African education institutions today. Given the devastating effects of the pandemic in 2020, nowhere is this more apparent than in medical training in Africa. The continent’s ability to strengthen medical preparedness and resilience for future pandemics is greatly increased by giving medical students the practical, hands-on experience and training that is currently lacking in traditional education models.

Private education is increasingly appealing to African students and their families as they search out education models that take a more consistent approach to quality of teaching, infrastructure and training programs. One such example is The Medical Simulation Centre (MSC) in Tunisia, a leading African medical training institution by Honoris United Universities, with a mission to both train current medical students and offer continuing professional development for healthcare professionals. Having just received a provisional accreditation from the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, the center is now among the top medical simulation centers in the world, and one of only 8 on the continent.

Opened in 2018 in Tunis, the MSC offers excellence in multidisciplinary clinical training and education through simulators for all levels of care. To date, more than 2,000 students, 200 paramedics and 24 obstetricians from across Africa have benefited from the services of the center. The 2500 m2 site in the heart of Tunis boasts equipment that meets the best international standards by offering four types of simulation, including the most advanced modelling technologies in a ‘real hospital’ environment, scenario-based simulations, actor-based simulations and state-of-the-art virtual reality technologies, enabling complex scenarios and real-time emergency procedures and action training.

This year, the rapid spread of COVID-19 necessitated a fast response, with the acquisition of PPE, diagnostics, devices, and medicines a major priority. Life-saving devices such as ventilators have proven to be in short supply globally, with many of the world’s poorest nations struggling to acquire the equipment. A project led by Professor Nidhal Rezg from Université Centrale in Tunisia, a HUU member institution, Director of the Medical Simulation Centre and a leading surgeon, Professor Chadli Dziri, MD, and anesthesiologist Dr. Mamoun Ben Cheikh, was the first in Africa to produce a prototype for a non-invasive 3D-printed ventilation system, available as an open-source software without patent, that can be made using commonly accessible and inexpensive components making it affordable and easy to produce globally. The kit includes a protective face mask that connects to an electric insufflator, the body of which can also be 3D-printed, further attached to the insufflator is an oxygen tank that delivers a predetermined, fixed concentration of oxygen.

As part of its mission to give students real-world examples of situations during their training and not once they enter the field, the MSC is also working on the provision of augmented reality to train health sciences students to deal with patients who suffer from COVID-19 symptoms, critical for any future ramifications of the virus or indeed further pandemics.

This kind of practical training also bolsters the urgent need to place more focus on core competencies that have for the most part been neglected in Africa. Immersive environments like simulation centers require students to build emotional intelligence, social-awareness, people management, teamwork, time management, critical thinking, decision-making, communication and more. They insist upon immediate and rapid responses to real-world scenarios using state-of-the-art technology that allows students to achieve a 360-learning experience from professors, peers, and their own judgments.

These 21st century learning environments represent a rethinking and reshaping of education. It is this approach, that focuses on learning outcomes and human experience rather than tick-box pedagogy, that will enable the African medical leaders of tomorrow to enter the world of work fully prepared for any crisis.