Global Health students fight to contain a dangerous epidemic in a new training simulation

Rather than teaching the clinical skills needed in the treatment of infectious diseases, the aim of the interactive group exercise was to provide an immersive experience of a very challenging scenario. Aleksandra Polkowska (left), Christopher Kipkorir and Manisha Hamal took part in the simulation. Photograph: Mikko Perkiö

Rather than teaching the clinical skills needed in the treatment of infectious diseases, the aim of the interactive group exercise was to provide an immersive experience of a very challenging scenario. Aleksandra Polkowska (left), Christopher Kipkorir and Manisha Hamal took part in the simulation. Photograph: Mikko Perkiö

You find yourself in the following scenario: you are working in a developing country, and a very sick patient comes to visit your rural health clinic. His symptoms point to a very infectious and dangerous disease. What do you do?

This question was the starting point of an exercise organised for students on the Master’s Degree Programme in Global Health and medical students at the University of Tampere, Finland. The simulation took place at the brand new Tampere Training Center for Skills and Simulation.

“The exercise offered a comprehensive picture and experience of a very challenging situation and made the students aware of the various aspects that have to be taken into consideration,” says Annariina Koivu, Doctor of Global Health, who directed the simulation. She works as researcher and university instructor on the Master’s Degree Programme in Global Health and Development (GHD).

“The simulation facilities, the wearing of masks and the performance of the various tasks instead of reading about them made the experience concrete, forcing the students think about how they should act if they ended up actually doing challenging work in a developing country or during a crisis. Coordination and problem-solving skills are very likely to be a part of the job description,” Koivu says.

Students in the Health and Health Care in Disaster Situations course benefitted from their fellow students’ experiences: one had a clinical background and another had volunteered in a refugee camp. Nearly all of the students came from different countries.

Who treats the patients? How can you protect yourself?

The patient’s symptoms pointed to Dangerous Infectious Disease (DID) – an imaginary disease the students developed for the exercise that had similarities to Ebola and other viral haemorrhagic fevers.

The scenario raised many questions: How can a patient infected with DID be treated in a clinic and hospital in an imaginary developing country? How should the health care professionals protect themselves? What protective gear can be found in a rural health clinic in the first place? What kind of communication and transportation options are there in a developing country? How can you get the patient to a hospital 700 kilometres away? If the drive is 700 kilometres, will you need two drivers?

“You are quite careless with your protective gear,” visiting expert Heidi Isohanni tells the participants. Isohanni has, among other things, coordinated work on Ebola in Liberia for the Finnish Red Cross. She explained how the situation would have been managed in the middle of the Ebola crisis.

Even small details may turn out to be critical

The purpose of the simulation was to examine the spread and containment of a dangerous disease in the setting of a developing country.

The problem-solving exercise was based on acting out the various roles, and the group work proceeded from one scene to the next.

In their evaluation of the exercise, the students listed the following aspects – among others – as important: waste management, good communications, close attention to every detail, a focus on how the smallest thing could lead to an epidemic, and the scarcity of resources in the context of a developing country.

“I am very happy that the students took to their roles and enjoyed the exercise. The simulation space is magnificent, and the simulation left the students with different memory traces than if we had gone through the whole thing in a mass lecture with PowerPoint slides,” Koivu says.

“This was the best practical session so far. I find the practical classes, where we engage in field experiences, more interesting than lectures. I learned important skills,” says Manisha Hamal, a student from Nepal.

A description of the Health and Health Care in Disaster Situations course is available here.

For more information, please contact:
Dr Annariina Koivu, tel. +358 50 509 9160