A computer user in Hong Kong, looking at an image of online Mandarin teacher Lily Huang at her home on mainland China.
Credit: Richard A. Brooks
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Joaquin Blaya, Ph.D., is the founder of eHealth Systems, a Health IT consulting based in Chile, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, and a moderator of the Health IT community on GHDonline.org. He received his Ph.D. from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in 2008. He also consults for Boston-based Partners In Health.

A key challenge in providing healthcare and health IT in resource-poor settings is a lack of training and trained personnel.

There are many reasons for this: the high cost of training, especially in remote areas; the fact that trained personnel usually move to urban areas; and the lack of education and opportunities in rural areas.

One strategy to reduce these problems is eLearning: providing training and other education online.

The rise of e-learning centers, virtual classrooms, and open-source materials (eLearning) is one of the largest growing sub-sectors of education. According to SpirE-Journal, the amount spent on eLearning is forecasted to exceed $69 billion worldwide by 2015. One popular eLearning platform, Moodle, has more than 65,000 registered sites, and some 1,500 new sites develop every month. There are also a number of open-source eLearning platforms that anyone can use.

As more universities follow Harvard and MIT's edX example and place their courses online, eLearning is building a global movement and a community of online learners. 

In Chile, my organization, eHealth Systems, has taught hundreds of healthcare professionals how to use mobile health (mHealth) tools to treat chronic diseases, These include an automated support system for diabetic patients, cell phone applications to collect information, and clinical decision tools for community healthcare workers.

We are just beginning to use the web to its full potential for providing more opportunities in resource-poor settings. In the future, I hope to see doctors in rural Bolivia or the Philippines return home after University and continue to study their specialties, learn about new tools, and perhaps even earn additional income by tutoring online.

Here are a few other ways eLearning is being used to support health care delivery around the world:

• The Hospital Italiano in Buenos Aires, Argentina (with Paula Otero), runs eLearning courses and seminars related to medical informatics More than 2,266 students have attended from all over the world.

• The Regional East African Centre of Health Informatics (REACH-Informatics) in Eldoret, Kenya (Coordinated by John Kemboi) was established in 2009 to provide East Africans with training in electronic health records (EHRs).

• The PAHO/WHO Center for Nursing Knowledge, Information Management, and Sharing (KIMS), co-led by Patricia Abbott, manages the Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery, a very low bandwidth electronic community of practice that facilitates knowledge exchange between nearly 3,000 participants from 158 countries.

• A nurse informatics certificate program, led by Heimar Marin, has been created in Brazil and is looking to become part of the standard nursing curriculum.

The leaders of these organizations will share their experiences and talk about next steps during a virtual panel discussion this week, July 16 – 20, on Global Health Delivery online (GHDonline.org). GHDonline.org is the platform of expert-led communities of practice run by the GHD Project at Harvard University. All are welcome to participate.

eLearning is allowing the health field to do important work around the world. I hope readers will share additional examples of successful programs and offer thoughts on what the future holds.

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