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Reflections from the 2016 Global Health Mini-University

Friday, March 4, 2022

Cross-posted from the USAID Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Systems (ASSIST) Project Blog. Read more here.

The Global Health "Mini-U” is an annual, day-long forum featuring technical evidence-based best practices and state-of-the-art sessions.  The Mini-U offers a variety of presentations highlighting evidence-based best practices and state-of-the-art information on technical health areas, including maternal and child health.Every year, hundreds of university students, medical professionals, and public health experts gather to learn, exchange knowledge, and present new innovations in health. This year, over 800 people attended the 60 sessions organized. An additional 277 people attended the forum virtually.

TRAction Project moderated a panel session that discussed quality of care (QoC) within Performance-Based Incentives (PBI) programs at the Global Health Mini-University. TRAction Project and its research partners organized the panel session "Considerations in Planning and Evaluating Performance-Based Incentives Schemes," wherein panelists discussed how countries are incentivizing improved quality within PBI programs. In this session, panelists presented the results of three USAID|TRAction Project-supported studies that examine QoC in the planning, implementation, and evaluation phases of PBI programs. Panelists gave an overview of the global landscape of PBI programs, including how and to what extent quality is incorporated. Illustrative examples of research in Kenya, Senegal and Malawi highlighted how results have informed PBI scale-up in each country. Panelists discussed challenges in measuring quality and verifying results, intervention effects on provider ability to provide higher quality care, and the management of stakeholder dynamics. 

What did we learn from these sessions? Here are a few reflections from our team at URC:

Lani Marquez

My three takeaways from the 2016 Mini-U were: 1) Anisa Ismail’s very straightforward explanation of what improvement is, with a real-life example drawn from the audience, reinforced for me the importance of using every opportunity to explain what we mean by improvement methods—that this is still new information to many; 2) The performance-based financing panel discussion proved the value of speakers speaking without PowerPoints; and 3) The use of speed consulting to demonstrate the power of peer-to-peer learning was what participants liked best about our session, “Simple rules for CLA.”

Sarah Weber

The “Can Improved Data Systems help Moms have Healthier Babies?” engaged participants by having them use their own mobile phones to demonstrate how real time data works. A great incentive was that they handed out chocolate to kick off the session and then had participants respond to questions about the chocolate to demonstrate real-time crowd-sourcing. The session featured Mom Connect – a project which uses mobile phone technology to improve antenatal care services in South Africa. Specifically, it discussed the use of real-time technology to send text messages focused on health to pregnant mothers as well as receive responses and questions. It’s fascinating to know that with widespread use of mobile technology, crowd sourcing is now a viable option to both send information to and receive data from a wide audience.

Anisa Ismail

I was really intrigued by the session, “It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a…Global Health Tool! Using Drones in Global Health.” The general discourse around drones is often focused on their contested uses in the military and for Amazon.com package deliveries. Privacy concerns are growing, and justified. Cameras with wings can quickly turn problematic. But the session’s panelists described how drones are also being used to conduct structural analyses in post-earthquake zones, capture mosquitos to aid disease research, and deliver medication and other supplies to health facilities. It can take a lot of time and effort to reach health centers in underdeveloped or rural areas. Drones can deliver supplies quickly and efficiently multiple times a day, a logistical advantage that could become critical in emergency situations. If used responsibly, drones have the potential to make a tremendous impact on global public health. 

Michael Celone

Using Drones in Global Health was also my favorite. With three different researchers with expertise in engineering, biology, computer science, public health; they were able to present different ways that drones can applied to health interventions in low- and middle-income countries. In addition to the examples Anisa mentioned, drones can also be used as a GIS tool to map villages in order to target health services to those in need.  Drones have already been used to map isolated villages in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis and towns that were impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Although unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones) are a new, unfamiliar, and often misunderstood technology, they can be used in innovative ways to improve health delivery and access in isolated areas. The idea of using drones as a health tool is relatively new. I am confident that with more research and innovation drones will be successfully incorporated into a number of different global health and disaster relief interventions and will greatly impact the health status of vulnerable populations.

Andrea Surette

In “Publishing 101: 10 (Or More) Things You Need To Know To Get Your Article Published” audience members learned about the relatively new Global Health: Science and Practice (GHSP)journal, including the types of articles they are looking to publish. Many people who attend “Mini-U” may not have data that is ready or appropriate for publication in a more academic journal, but GHSP accepts papers that lean more toward the “grey literature” category. This journal could be a useful place for URC, TRAction Project and others to publish program experiences, telling the implementation science story of what worked and why in specific contexts. Further, Editors from leading public health journals explained the process of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal and fielded questions from emerging researchers on content, tone, and strategies to get their work published.


Vicky Ramirez

I personally loved the “’Real Talk:’ Successful Media Approaches for Health Messaging Young People”. In this session, panelists shared innovative youth-focused messaging to promote HIV awareness, prevention, and treatment. From (1) catchy tunes, to (2) text messaging campaigns, and (3) online chat rooms; three USAID-funded projects were able to successfully disseminate sexual and reproductive health messages and engage with youth.  

  1. In South Africa, the Scrutinize campaign disseminated messages like this: “An Undercover Lover Brings You HIV from Another” (video clip)
  2. Using their phones, 2,000 young people in Mozambique made 17,000+ requests for info about their bodies and health
  3. Through online chat rooms, cyber-educators in Central America were able to chat about HIV prevention with men having sex with men (video clip)


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