Research on the Suriname project during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic with its restrictions demands us to adapt our activities, especially when it comes to face-to-face interaction, and implement creative alternatives. As distance learning experts, we manage to come a long way.

Also our two VU-Amsterdam students who planned their internship for their Global Health studies partially to be executed in Suriname had to change their methods doing digital data collection instead of field research.

Luca van Deursen and Marjolein Wesselo started their internship in February of this year. Where Luca is doing an evaluation study of the Female&Family[e]Education training for maternal healthcare workers in Suriname. Marjolein is researching the effectiveness of the LUCY app for pregnant women and mothers of newborns. Both planned to travel to Suriname for approximately 2 months to conduct face-to-face interviews and focus groups with e-learning participants and LUCY app users. 

Data collection on a distance
However, one week before departure, Suriname closed their airspace and all flights were canceled to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus. An enormous disappointment for both students who had been working hard to prepare for their trip. But they kept their spirits up and swiftly adapted their research plan and methodology using WhatsApp and Skype call interviews as alternative way for data collection on a distance.

Digital learning
Despite the challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our participants in Suriname can continue with Female&Family[e]Education as e-course. During the interviews participants stated that the e-course is highly suitable because currently many trainees work at home or in an office rather than in the clinic. The online modules enable the participants to work from the safety of their own home or office respecting the measures the government has taken such as curfew and prohibition of group activities. If they have questions they can consult the e-tutor via Health[e]Foundation or get in touch with other participants.

The future of e-learning
Luca has almost finished her data collection via interviews with trainees and stakeholders. Based on the feedback, she believes e-learning is a perfect example of how we can continue training in a changed educational environment. The effect and the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic are unpredictable, but it is clear that we need to think of alternative ways to communicate, teach and learn. e-Learning provides a great opportunity for healthcare workers all over the world to continue their education and refresher trainings even when it is not possible to attend physical workshops or gatherings. Luca thinks that the Female&Family[e]Education training has great potential and can be easily scaled up to increase accessibility for many more participants. Additionally, people will appreciate and value the training even more after this crisis, and more readily accept this new way of learning.

Health information app LUCY
Marjolein is collecting data from LUCY app users. The LUCY app was launched in March and is available for download in the Appstore and Playstore. It is developed to support women during their pregnancy and in the first year of their newborn baby. Once the LUCY app is downloaded, no internet connection is needed to receive the weekly health information messages. Every woman, whether she lives in the coastal area or inland of Suriname, is able to receive the health information tailored to her gestational age or age of her baby. Especially in these times, when it is difficult to physically meet healthcare providers, LUCY can improve the information provision for pregnant women and mothers of newborns.

Marjolein interviews LUCY users to learn from their experiences with the app. Based on input from the project partner Perisur and the healthcare workers who follow the Female&Family[e]Education course she has been able to schedule interviews on distance via WhatsApp with the users and she sees an advantage in working digitally as it enables her to gain digital work experience which will definitely come at hand in the future.

The future of health information apps
Marjolein expects that there will be an increase in open-mindedness for alternative ways of being informed. The LUCY app can inform women about their pregnancy and health of their newborn in times when it is challenging to obtain information via direct contact with healthcare providers.

The ‘Care at Hand’ project is executed in collaboration with Perisur Foundation in Suriname. The project is funded by the UTSN Twinningfaciliteit Suriname – the Netherlands.