Concerns are growing that the impact of COVID-19 could be devastating in low and middle-income countries. With many grappling with inadequate infrastructures and under-resourced health systems, there is a small window of opportunity for mounting a coordinated effort to prepare clinicians and local health workers to prevent, contain, and treat COVID-19. An effective response requires the rapid sharing of best practices and support to implement interventions while adapting these for the realities and cultural contexts of specific regions and countries. Additionally, solutions need to work in the context of social distancing and lockdowns — which have limited the ability of governments and public health agencies to convene staff for traditional knowledge sharing.
Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) exists to democratize life-saving medical knowledge — linking experts at centralized institutions with regional, local, and community-based workforces. With Audacious investment, over the next two years, they will scale this proven virtual learning and tele-mentoring model to equip over 350,000 frontline clinicians and public health workers to respond to COVID-19. Working across Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, they will build a global network of health workers who together can permanently improve health systems and save lives in our world’s most vulnerable communities. Through their existing hubs at regional medical centers in 39 countries, Project ECHO will leverage video-conferencing technology to engage local healthcare workers and public health officials in knowledge-sharing and case-based learning. Best practices will be shared and adapted in both directions — between subject matter experts and those working in the field.
Working closely with in-country partner institutions, ECHO will develop and launch new COVID-19 content and resources, designing, curating, and sharing up-to-date information and emerging insights on such issues as community transmission and isolation, testing, and respiratory therapy protocols. At the same time, they are working to scale up delivery of COVID-19 programs via existing hubs, beginning in 16 priority countries. Over the next two years, ECHO will support 100 new COVID-19 learning hubs, expanding to include up to 50 countries. They will do this by identifying new partners, building out hubs across the highest-need countries, and provide the ECHO platform to strengthen their health system. ECHO will also launch a global collaborative of experts and leaders with significant COVID-19 experience. There is high demand for clinical and public health expertise from countries whose different approaches to containing the pandemic have been successful in sharing strategies and lessons learned. This transnational collaboration will ensure that the most vulnerable populations benefit from the latest research and expertise.
Project ECHO has demonstrated its ability to scale globally, growing in 17 years from a single program in New Mexico to a worldwide movement across 39 countries. Their programs in prevention and care cover 74 health focus areas, including HIV, hepatitis C, and child health. In several countries — including India, Namibia, Kenya, and Vietnam ECHO programs initially launched with philanthropic funding have seen state and national governments commit funding, showing the strong potential for sustainability through government partnerships. Project ECHO recently shifted its focus to COVID-19 — and in just six weeks, has engaged over 175,000 health care professionals globally on COVID-19 learnings. Their COVID-19 efforts in India show their programs’ ability for rapid scale, with hub partners hosting over 350 sessions, for 75,000 providers, in just five weeks. Project ECHO is poised to scale across other low and medium-income countries working shoulder to shoulder with existing government partners and practitioners who are reaching out for support.
Sanjeev is the founder and director of Project ECHO and a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNMHSC). In 2007, ECHO won the Ashoka Foundation's Changemakers award, an international competition recognizing programs that are changing the paradigm of how medicine is practiced. In addition to leading Project ECHO, he previously served as Executive Vice-Chair and Acting Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, as President of the Medical Staff and also served for five years on the Board of Trustees of UNM hospital.