26 Jan 2011

OU and World Health Organization to work together to address health needs in Africa

HEAT trains rural health workers in their communities

HEAT trains rural health workers in their communities

The Open University and the World Health Organization (WHO) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together to address some of the world's urgent health needs, in particular those relating to child and maternal health in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Open University has been working with the Federal Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF, and the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) in Ethiopia to help upgrade the country’s 31,000 rural community health workers' knowledge and skills through its Health Education and Training (HEAT) programme. Using the OU’s established and successful distance-learning model to support African health experts, HEAT creates learning materials for rural health workers to use while remaining in their communities delivering crucial health services.

HEAT is a direct response to the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.The distance-learning materials developed and provided by the project are studied alongside practical skills training, helping health workers to provide better care for mothers and children and to improve knowledge and skills in antenatal care, safe delivery and postnatal care. The project also equips health workers with the skills to treat common childhood illnesses including pneumonia and diarrhoea; to counsel mothers on the importance of nutrition for growth and development; and to prevent and treat a range of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

The MoU outlines how The Open University and the World Health Organization will work together to take the successful HEAT programme to health workers in the rest of Africa.

Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said: “This agreement underlines the positive impact The Open University and its partners have already made in sub-Saharan Africa through the Healthcare Education and Training programme. With the help of the World Health Organization we can now start to make an impact across the rest of Africa. With this support, and working with our partners in Africa, we believe we can reach hundreds of thousands of health workers who are delivering crucial health services to millions of people in remote areas.”

Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, said: “WHO, being the global leader on health and OU the global leader on distance education, this cooperation is sure to bring the much-needed, rapid skills building of frontline health workers. This will, in turn, contribute to meeting the Millennium Development Goals.”


About HEAT

HEAT and its partners were awarded $4million by UNICEF in January 2010 for the OU to support the development of learning resources for rural community health workers in Ethiopia. The OU team works in partnership with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, AMREF (the African Medical and Research Foundation), WHO, Jhpiego (an affiliate of John Hopkins University) and Ethiopian experts from a range of specialisms including maternal and child health, medicine, nursing and midwifery.

HEAT is modelled on the OU’s TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) programme which is already providing training and support for 200,000 primary school teachers in nine countries in Africa. TESSA won a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2009. For more information about the work the OU is doing in Africa, go to

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