Nader Aboulebdeh learned about “Investing in Child Nutrition,” the e-learning course that Alive & Thrive developed with a variety of partners, from his supervisor at Action Against Hunger, the global humanitarian organization.
“It was quite perfect, to be honest,” said Nader, now a nutrition officer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Syria. After taking it “I was in the office, running around and asking people, ‘Have you done this course?’
“The course is very useful, I recommend it. With e-learning you have the freedom to browse the materials whenever you have time, which is especially important in this COVID-19 era.”
Nader is one of about 1,200 people worldwide who have registered for “Investing in Child Nutrition” since its launch last year. Alive & Thrive recently contacted several users in Africa, Europe and the U.S. who echoed his assessment, saying that the content had improved their knowledge and skills.
“I’m working with the Ministry of Health and I’m using a lot of the technical information that I learned in the course,” he said. “Technically, it’s very comprehensive – it covers every aspect of infant and young child feeding, from breastfeeding to growth monitoring, and it includes information for specific contexts like HIV.”
Working with UNICEF and a global network of experts, Alive & Thrive developed the course based on the World Health Organization (WHO) Combined Course on Growth Assessment and Infant and Young Child Feeding Counselling and supplemental content from WHO, UNICEF, the Global Health Media Project, and the Raising Children Network (Australia). It is free and available in both French and English.
The course comprises 10 modules that cover a variety of IYCF topics, including breastfeeding, complementary feeding, growth assessment, HIV and infant feeding, and policies and programs.
The course’s content has had important practical use in their work, they said. In Harare, for example, Zephenia Gomora, a nutrition specialist (MIYCN) with UNICEF, said he had used the information regarding the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes to inform efforts to improve monitoring and enforcement of the Code in Zimbabwe.
“I learned of the subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions on promotion of breastmilk substitutes, including WHA resolution 69.9,” Gomora said. “This year we are looking at how we can revise Statutory Instrument 46 of 1998 and adapt the subsequent WHA resolutions and update it. I personally learned this aspect from the course.” Gomora said the setup of the course also impressed him.
“I think it’s very user friendly and I liked the way it was structured and how the information was delivered,” he said. “The photos, the videos, the animations, the audio clips – they engage you. You could also give feedback as you go. The end of module quizzes stimulated me to learn more.”
Rita Abi Akar, a public health nutritionist who lives in London and works on nutrition with various international Non-Governmental Organizations, was similarly impressed.
“I have recommended the course to a lot of people already,” Akar said. “It’s an essential course if you’re working in humanitarian nutrition. It will add a lot to your knowledge.”
She was not convinced that would be the case when she enrolled in the course, however.
“I was not sure about the content,” she said. “I hold a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics and a master’s degree in public health nutrition. I was scared that some information might be redundant. But I was surprised – the content was very good and it added to what I know.”
In South Sudan, John Riak is a maternal, infant and young child nutrition program officer for the Tear Fund in Jonglei State. About 100 women participate in the program, although the reach of its nutrition information extends well beyond the women into the community, he said.
The course added to his knowledge, particularly on preventive nutrition, and growth monitoring and promotion, he said. Riak is a Master of Public Health Leadership (MPHL) Save the Mothers candidate at Uganda Christian University.
“It’s very clear as you read through it,” Riak said. “With the videos, the audio clips, and the transcripts, if you are attentive it allows you to understand.”
The course has enormous potential, particularly if access can be extended to health workers in places where there is no internet access, he added.
“This course will help health workers,” Riak said. “In South Sudan, most of those who work in the health sectors, maybe half of them, have not gone through higher education. Many drop out and they are in the system as attendants or assistants and they get some experience.
“They want to learn but internet access is a problem. The best way would not be online. But if this were available offline, this would help them and they would like it.”
Haley Brightman, senior program officer at URC and an MPH in global health, also expressed interest in improving access to the free program.
“I know it’s more geared toward health professionals – community health workers – which is important,” Brightman said. “I’m curious to know how it’s promoted to health care workers in those settings to take.”
Currently, the course is only available to those with internet access. But that could change as the course is developed, said Roger Mathisen, Alive & Thrive’s program director for Southeast Asia who oversaw the conception and development of the course.
“We are aware that internet connectivity impacts access,” Mathisen said. “It’s something we hope to address with partners.”
Introducing versions of the course in other languages and adapting it to different cultural contexts are other areas Alive & Thrive is exploring, he said.