By Bruno Cássio – LAIS/UFRN Communications Office
When the first version of the Virtual Learning Environment of the Brazilian Health System (AVASUS) went online, it was unimaginable that in less than 10 years of creation, the platform would surpass the mark of 1 million students enrolled. In May 2023, when these numbers were reached, will go down in the success story of this initiative, which besides contributing to the qualification of professionals from the Brazilian National Health System (SUS), has taken information based on scientific evidence to other regions of the world. In this way, acting as an important strategic public health tool, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Agenda.
“With the use of technology for learning, we are improving the educational offerings for health professionals, working with two Sustainable Development Goals: goal 4, which deals with quality, equitable education, with access for all; and with SDG 3, which deals with health, effectively”, is what the Vice-Director of the Multidisciplinary Institute of Human Training with Technologies of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (IFHT/UERJ), Carlos Alberto Oliveira, points out. The researcher participated in the initial process of this Virtual Learning Environment and emphasized the work of horizontal cooperation with other countries that need to exchange knowledge in the area.
It was by connecting knowledge across geographical boundaries that the AVASUS modules reached Tanzania, a country on the African continent with precarious sanitation conditions and a shortage of health professionals. In this context, the presence of the community health volunteer in rural locations is essential as a disease prevention strategy. Rafael Silva, a missionary with the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and Acts of Life institutions in Tanzania, saw through the AVASUS courses the possibility of training new volunteer health agents on a larger scale. To this end, he requested support from the Laboratory for Technological Innovation in Health (LAIS/UFRN) – which manages AVASUS in partnership with the Distance Education Department (SEDIS/UFRN) and with support from the Brazilian Ministry of Health (MoH) – so this initiative could reach Africa.
“Education that set free, frees from the slavery of disease. By applying the knowledge acquired through health education, entire communities have seen a steady improvement in their quality of life and the wonderful feeling of a decrease in the recurrence of the diseases that kept them as slaves in the Morogoro region”, highlights the missionary when analyzing the impacts of access to health information produced and shared in Swahili, the main language of Tanzania. But it is in Brazil where we find several examples of how AVASUS has contributed to the induction of public policies in the health field.
According to LAIS/UFRN’s executive director Ricardo Valentim, the platform has been fundamental during health crises: “After 2014, we had the Zika virus infection that came after the World Cup and was closely associated with the issue of microcephaly. The Ministry of Health quickly mobilized AVASUS to be a tool to induce human training for health professionals and the population. Another example of performance was in the fight against syphilis. With the production of more than 60 modules, accounting for more than 270 thousand enrollments, only in the training and qualification about syphilis in Brazil and finally the pandemic of COVID-19. Once again we were able to quickly provide the first national offer of a module about Sars-Cov-2, which has reached more than 90,000 students in Brazil and other regions of the world.”.
Health manager and researcher Patrícia Bezerra, who has experience in topics such as: innovation in health, digital health, health education, primary health care, and technology-mediated educational resources, said “AVASUS contributes to the integration of SUS workers because it provides health education in a reliable way, ensuring constant updating and significant information for daily work, in order to expand the qualification of health care in Brazil”. In the Brazilian map of social, economic, and regional inequalities, the guarantee of being able to connect to knowledge in an open and free way has contributed to changing realities.
“Accessing the AVASUS platform was of great relevance to improving my knowledge. I completed the course ‘Syphilis: Pathogenesis, development of the immune response, and diagnostic methods’ (Available at: https://avasus.ufrn.br/local/avasplugin/cursos/curso.php?id=314) and it was possible to have more clarity about diagnosis and immune response to syphilis, which still generates many questions among health professionals”, affirms Aldelice Ferreira, Coordinator of the Technical Area for Syphilis in Rio Branco/Acre, in the Northern Region. Still according to Ferreira, this module helped to improve the processes and experiences at work, regarding the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of syphilis.
In Mato Grosso do Sul, Midwest Brazil, health psychologist Vera Lucia Kodjaoglanian followed and participated in the evolution of the platform that works with Continuing Health Education (CHE). According to the professional who has decades of experience in public health, “AVASUS contributes greatly to the qualification of health professionals, since it deals with central and relevant issues at all levels of health care, providing an opportunity for all regions of Brazil to exchange experiences and best practices in health”.
In the Northeast Region, this perception is no different. “AVASUS is a differentiated tool for the application of open, flexible, and distance learning, being a worldwide trend and an excellent example of successful learning experiences”, stated Cristine Gusmão, professor of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE). “The content and courses accessible on AVASUS allow the advancement and sharing of knowledge, definition of public policies, and contribute to building a resilient health system”, emphasized the professor.
“AVASUS is a watershed in the history of the Paraná School of Public Health (ESPP), which was the first to install an AVASUS instance. We can customize our distance education offerings and reach the majority of healthcare professionals and the population”, said Aldiney Doreto, coordinator of the Division of Technologies Applied to Health Education at ESPP in the South. For Doreto, since 200 educational modules are offered for 399 cities in Paraná, “health professionals, even those from the smallest cities in the state, are able to access the training that the School provides and contribute to improving the health system”.
AVASUS contributes to PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center
The expertise accumulated throughout the innovative process of AVASUS contributed to LAIS/UFRN being transformed into a Collaborating Center of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), an organization linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Americas, and the first in the Northeast Region of Brazil. In April 2022 LAIS/UFRN became the “Collaborating Center in Innovation in Virtual Health Education”. Check out the complete list of Collaborating Centers in the country.