Helping low-resource countries to advance toward their development goals frequently requires thinking outside the box, and oftentimes alternative solutions prove to be more cost-efficient and effective. The use of a messaging platform — WhatsApp— to facilitate communication and the exchange of knowledge between biomedical technicians in Haiti is an example of such success.
When the USAID’s Global Health Supply Chain (GHSC) - Technical Assistance (TA) Francophone Task Order started addressing one of the major gaps in the Haitian health supply chain system — maintenance of medical and laboratory equipment — new challenges to a seemingly straightforward problem began surfacing every day. Once the project had completed a much-needed inventory of all laboratory and medical equipment, assessed its status in FY18, and started planning for the needed repairs, disposal, and training of the local staff to perform these repairs and maintenance, the team had to reach out to a limited cadre of available trained biomedical technicians. The outreach turned out to be complicated by the fact that the contact information provided by the local Ministry of Health was not up to date, and more than 70 percent of biomedical technicians from a Ministry-provided list could not be reached. There was no community of practice in place or any other professional forum where Haitian biomedical technicians could exchange information, knowledge, and experiences.
The Ministry identified a group of 23 specialists for the project’s initial training on laboratory and medical equipment maintenance at the National Laboratory of Haiti. After successful completion of the training, the need to maintain regular communication and to foster collaboration between the newly trained specialists emerged as a priority.
To offer biomedical technicians a forum where they can discuss various technical aspects of their work, from leadership challenges to specific situations for equipment troubleshooting, the project introduced “TBM National D’Haiti,” a WhatsApp group that serves as an alternative means of knowledge sharing for these specialists. The lead biomedical engineer of the Ministry of Health and the lead biomedical technician of the National Laboratory are among the members of this group to ensure quality control of the advice provided and to keep an eye on the emerging issues. Requests for assistance can be sent via chat as a text or shared in a voice file or a video file, and a solution response is typically made available within hours. In just few months of its existence, the WhatsApp group became a real-time troubleshooting tool. Among other situations, it provided immediate assistance to a biomedical technician from the Hopital de la Paix who encountered a problem with the hospital’s main autoclave and could not identify its cause. The group was able to assist another biomedical technician trying to solve an issue with two new infant incubators that were malfunctioning after installation. The group was able to propose several such solutions and even offered, in some instances, to meet at the hospital to work together to resolve the problem. Soon the news started to spread by word of mouth, with additional biomedical technicians joining the group, requesting information and advice, and inquiring about future training opportunities.
The notion of a professional community of practice is new for Haiti. The USAID’s GHSC-TA Francophone Task Order was able to capitalize on the momentum and supported an innovative knowledge exchange forum through the WhatsApp platform, resulting in the promotion of a culture of collaboration among technical personnel and leading to real-time solutions for participating biomedical technicians.