GHF2010 – PS39 – Training for Humanitarian Assistance

Session Outline

Parallel session PS39, Wednesday, April 21 2010, 11:00-12:30, Room 13
Innovative, Simulation-Based Learning in the European Master in Disaster Medicine
Pierluigi Ingrassia, Research Centre in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIM), University of Eastern Piedmont, Novara, Italy
The HELP Course: A Multicultural and Multidisciplinary Learning Experience in Humanitarian Assistance Training
Yves Etienne, Head, Assistance Divisions & HELP Course Coordinator, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Switzerland
The CERAH Training Programme: Meeting Professional Challenges in Humanitarian Action
Jean-Daniel Rainhorn, Director, Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH), Switzerland

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Emma Greenaway (ICVolunteers)

Photo by John Brownlee,

Training for humanitarian assistance is evolving in response to the ever-changing context of humanitarian assistance and the increasing need for a professionally-trained humanitarian workforce. Competence-based training is gradually replacing knowledge-based training to ensure a humanitarian workforce that can respond efficiently and effectively in crisis situations. The training programmes outlined in this session reflect these changes and provide an insight into current developments in this important field.

This workshop, chaired by Beat Stoll of the Medical Facility, University of Geneva, tackled the question of training and preparing professionals to work effectively in providing humanitarian assistance. Three speakers presented three different types of training courses that have evolved within the context of a changing approach to the professional requirements of humanitarian work.

According to Dr. Ingrassia of the Research Centre in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIM), University of Eastern Piedmont, Novara, Italy, healthcare education has evolved from learning facts to developing and improving performance. This more competence-based approach increases the quality of patient care and is based on more experimental and participatory methods of learning.

Dr. Ingrassia described the European Masters in Disaster Medicine (EMDM) course, a one year programme delivered by the University of Eastern Piedmont in collaboration with a network of universities in Belgium, Switzerland, USA and Sweden, which aims to ensure preparedness and improve the quality of health response in disaster situations. The EMDM is based on an e-learning platform complemented by a two-week residential course. Participants have six months to produce a research project and must undergo an on-line examination at the end of the course. This course is mainly attended by healthcare professionals with post-graduate qualifications.

Collaborative problem solving through interaction lies at the heart of the learning methodology for this course.  Electronic teaching instruments and materials have been developed to give participants the opportunity to learn, develop and practise their skills in both virtual and live simulated situations. The Interactive Simulation Exercises for Emergencies software project (ISEE), has designed software that enables participants to be the key actors and decision makers in activities, calculating the consequences of their actions automatically so that they can learn from rapid feedback. Live simulation is also supported by software developed to generate real-life instruments such as laboratory tests.

The Health Education and Lifestyle Programme (HELP), described by Yves Etienne, Head, Assistance Divisions and HELP Course Co-ordinator of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), provides a very different example of professional training in this field. Mr Etienne referred to the increased need for professionalism in humanitarian assistance as a ‘revolution’ that has occurred over the last 25 years. HELP was designed by a partnership comprising ICRC, the University of Geneva and the WHO in response to this development and has two key objectives: to train health professionals in the field of health emergencies and to contribute to the development of academic curricula on public health emergencies. This intensive course currently lasts two weeks and covers a broad agenda including epidemiology, forensic medicine and economic and food security. One further week as a distance learning course is to be added. All participants have the opportunity to discuss issues that affect them in their own professional context and simulation exercises are used to try to apply these problems to a practical situation. Although most participants are healthcare professionals, there has been a recent increase in non-medical professionals joining the course. To date, approximately 115 courses have been run worldwide and have trained more than 2,500 participants from 152 countries. Local facilitators are trained alongside teachers of the course to enable future courses to be run locally.

Jean Daniel Rainhorn, Director of the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH), Switzerland, concurred with the two previous speakers that there has been a strong and rapid evolution in the field of training for humanitarian assistance. In addition, the nature of armed conflict today leads to new challenges, unpredictable complexity and increasingly dangerous situations where maintaining the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence is more difficult. Humanitarian professionals need more specialised training in professional competencies and tools to deal with all the challenging aspects of the context in which they are working.

CERAH works in close partnership with the University of Geneva, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and humanitarian organisations to offer four types of training programmes: Masters, certificate of advanced studies, one week seminars and short themed training sessions. Participants are growing in both number and diversity, with many coming from developing countries.

The CERAH, in partnership with the ICRC, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has produced the 2010 Global Survey of Humanitarian Education Programmes, an online database of humanitarian training programmes that provides a useful resource for humanitarian professionals which will be published in three weeks’ time.

Training providers in the humanitarian field are adapting their courses and using new technologies to respond to the changing nature and contexts of humanitarian work and growing professionalisation of the humanitarian workforce. Examples from these three institutions indicate the nature of changes taking place and the increasing importance of broadening access to training in developing countries.

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