Resolve to Save Lives

Epidemic Prevention/ Success Stories

Welcome to the Leadership and Learning Laboratory for Health Security Leaders

PMEP equips health security experts with practical, technical and leadership skills

In the heart of downtown Nairobi, 71 public health experts from 12 countries across Africa and the Middle East have gathered to discuss strategies for strengthening national health security in their respective countries. These leaders are responsible for making sure their nations can prevent epidemics, and collectively they bring centuries of experience preparing for and grappling with public health crises. This requires much more than technical expertise—leaders must think strategically, allocate resources, and manage teams under pressure with adaptability and resilience, essential skills that aren’t often taught in formal public health training programs. These experts have gathered in Nairobi for a training course seeking to provide these essential leadership skills.

The leadership and management training course they’re attending is part of Program Management for Epidemic Preparedness, or PMEP, a leadership and learning laboratory for health security experts that aims to equip participants with practical, technical and leadership skills to strengthen their institutional practices, programs and partnerships—and ultimately strengthen national health security. Since its founding in 2019, PMEP has now trained over 200 leaders from 20 African governments. This five-day course, known as PMEP Core, is PMEP’s foundational course, and the gathering in Nairobi held in 2023 was the largest convening of the course to date.

“We’re honored to be joined by such a distinguished group of people committed to combining their forces to advance health security,” says Jobin Abraham, RTSL’s Director of Leadership, Governance and Finance for Health Security, and a founder of PMEP. “Leadership and management are indispensable skills for epidemic preparedness. PMEP provides the opportunity to develop those skills by creating a space for these leaders to learn with and from one another.”

Attendees writing ideas on post it notes and attaching them to a flipchart

Technical and leadership skills for health security leaders

Over five days, PMEP Core participants take part in presentations, workshops, and interactive group exercises. On day one, the facilitators build rapport and confirm shared understanding of foundational concepts and frameworks in global health security. This introductory day also provides individuals plenty of time to connect with colleagues from other countries with overlapping specializations, building a psychological safety that allows participants to simultaneously challenge and support one another through difficult conversations from the get-go.

Attendees holding up cardboard paddles to vote with as part of an interactive exercise

Days two and three are dedicated to a deep exploration of technical and leadership skills that build on the foundational concepts introduced on day one. Participants examine how systems thinking approaches can facilitate stakeholder engagement and manage organizational change, the principles behind good situational leadership in stewarding a successful team, and how to persuasively engage decision-makers in advocating for health security financing. About half a day is dedicated to exploring each of these topics in depth, providing ample time to understand their nuances, applications and limitations.

“Year after year, financing is consistently named by participants as one of the biggest barriers they face in driving their countries’ health security agendas,” says Julie Wahl, RTSL’s Senior Advisor and PMEP’s lead facilitator.

“That’s why we’ve adapted the PMEP curriculum to include technical training to deepen participants’ understanding of health financing and practical training sessions that focus on strengthening skills in negotiation, advocacy and influence. The skills needed to address the challenge of funding for health security are both technical and operational—a perfect example of what PMEP is all about.”

Participants are advocating for resources to implement their National Action Plans for Health Security, or NAPHS, five-year strategic plans (broken into shorter operational plans) that outline the key activities leaders will undertake to realize their health security priorities. Days four and five, the final two days of the training, are dedicated to developing and implementing a quality NAPHS, which the facilitators hope will equip leaders with the confidence and skills needed to create improved plans when they return home. Before the end of the week, each country is expected to produce a roadmap they will use to engage their colleagues and partners to develop a well-prioritized and implementable NAPHS with the right technical, political and operational foundations.

Abraham says these participants were “hand-picked” by their governments for PMEP Core because of their commitment and ability to improve their NAPHS. The teams each include five to seven people with high-level political authority in various government departments and sectors, as well as representatives from WHO country offices, and who collectively bring expertise in human health, animal health, legislation and policy and financing. Having a diverse, cross-sector team in the room means participants will get the most from the PMEP team’s training methodology, equipping them with new tools and approaches to bring their national action plans into reality.


Hands-off facilitation and peer-led participation

PMEP Core is not your average leadership training course. It relies little on formal lectures or one-way information dissemination, beyond the minimum required to make sure that everyone in the room is familiar with the requisite concepts to dive into practical sessions. Instead, the course relies on consistent, active engagement from participants. Once the essential content is presented at the start of each session, the room quickly shapeshifts into group challenges, partner roleplays and simulations. A lively roleplay on negotiating budget, for instance, provided an opportunity for participants to put their new skills to the test by persuading gatekeepers to resources and political will to invest in their programs.

Two attendees in a role-play exercise sitting down at a desk, while others stand up watching in the background

The participants respond well to this immersive facilitation style. Dr. Elizabeth Nzioka from Kenya’s Ministry of Health remarked, “I love how involved participants are… We’re given so many opportunities to interact with other countries and immediately put into action the skills we’ve learned.” Dr. Sumbal Javed from Pakistan’s National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, commented on the facilitation style, adding, “the facilitators are very engaged and attuned to the needs of participants. There’s never a dull moment.”

Fostering peer-led learning and intercultural exchange is not happenstance—it’s central to the PMEP facilitators’ philosophy. Abraham says facilitators are not there to teach participants but to learn with them: “Our facilitators are in partnership with our participants and joining them on a journey of mutual learning and exchange. We’re not here to give the ‘right’ answer. We’re here to create an environment where challenge each other so new relationships and new ideas can flourish.”

In addition to 71 participants, this course was attended by four experts from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO’s regional offices, partners who work closely with the facilitators on PMEP and related projects to improve the quality of national action plans. Mohamed Elhakim from WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office says, “participants are so engaged here because the theoretical is quickly followed up with the practical… This training clearly has enormous value, and I hope we can continue partnering with Resolve to Save Lives to bring it to other countries across the Eastern Mediterranean region.”

The PMEP facilitation team is dedicated to making sure the course evolves to stay fresh and in line with global guidance, regulations and funding opportunities. This includes adapting content to address pressing leadership challenges including political skills and emotional intelligence, and emerging technical issues including financing and the 7-1-7 target. Working with participants and keeping a finger on the pulse of the global health landscape allows the course to remain practical and relevant. Its growing community of alumni, meanwhile, illustrates the ongoing impact of the course through its cross-country collaborations and efforts to train their wider community.


Staying connected and turning plans into actions

At the end of five long days, the participants gather for a final group reflection to share their most impactful learnings and consider how they can use them once they return home. The immediate next step is for countries to put the learnings from PMEP Core into action. Within weeks of finishing the course, all 12 participating countries held convenings to share recommendations that will ultimately lead to fresh national action plans. RTSL will continue partnering with countries in this ongoing effort, building on the principles discussed in the training that will need to be adapted for each unique context once the training room is left behind.

RTSL also invited teams to apply for PMEP Connect, a new 12-month remote training that builds on the skills developed in PMEP Core to make sure the plans for a quality NAPHS become a reality. Eight participating countries—Chad, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania Togo, Zambia, and Zanzibar—will continue developing their NAPHS through this new offering.

“The PMEP training arrived at a pivotal moment for our team and offered invaluable tools and insights,” says Dr. Farah Sabih from the World Health Organization, Pakistan. “Within weeks of completing PMEP Core, we’ve already integrated what we learned to significantly improve our approach in developing a more robust national action plan for health security.”

“We’re looking forward to learning how these leaders might inspire the next wave of planning, advocacy and implementation,” Abraham says. “They have a daunting challenge. I get the sense that participants are leaving this intensive workshop knowing that they aren’t alone, and feeling braver, more focused, and more energized about making strides to drive the health security agenda. We can’t wait to hear what they accomplish next!”

Find out more about Program Management for Epidemic Preparedness (PMEP)

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