The notion of capacity building is something that is repeatedly emphasized when addressing various challenges in low income countries. It is an idea that resonates not only with the developing world sharing information and knowledge with the resource poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world but also within resource poor countries.
Capacity building is an idea that is accepted and has helped train personnel from various resource poor countries in essential techniques and methods . These techniques and methods are expected to improve knowledge, service provision and way of life for many.
Capacity building works on the notion that “the more we know the more we can achieve” but is this always the case?
Why is capacity building important?
- There is always need for new ideas and capacity building is one way to achieve this.
- Capacity building fulfills the need for new experiences; this involves people traveling from one place to another in search for and to learn new ideas from others
- Capacity building also works on the notion that after attaining these new ideas and experiences the knowledge gained can be transferred and used at home (place of origin of the trained individuals)
With public health, infectious and non-communicable diseases, capacity building may involve new diagnostic methods and tools, disease prevention and management tools and skill sets needed for the various diagnostic tools.
One advantage of capacity building is that people are able to acquire training from various state of the art research institutes around the world. But there are many challenges that the trained individuals may face upon returning to their home countries.
These challenges include:
- Lack of infrastructure
- Lack of resources (reagents, equipment, finances/ funding) to sustain their newly acquired knowledge
- Skilled personnel move to new locations where they will be able to utilize their skills which most often involves abandoning their home base
- some of the skilled personnel opt to find new areas of work and sometimes completely changing careers due to lack of infrastructure/ tools.
With plenty attaining tertiary education and research skills (especially those from resource poor countries), scores are excited to retain home to utilize their skills. The challenge arises when they arrive at their home base and realize that their institutions do not have or completely lack up to date infrastructure to support their knowledge and skills. Soon the enthusiasm to work and help people in their home country boils down to frustration, leading to countless returning to the countries where they were trained and or other countries where they can get jobs matching their skill set.
The question remains “is capacity building without proper infrastructure in the intended countries/ populations, of benefit , or is it encouraging skilled personnel to move away from resource poor countries in search of greener pastures”?
In most resource poor countries, where the health systems are struggling, conducting research in life sciences including infectious diseases is a big challenge. Even if infrastructure such as research laboratories maybe available, finding/ obtaining reagents can be a logistical nightmare. Most often reagents have to be sourced from other countries, most often than not from Europe and USA. Importing these reagents incurs charges on top of the price for the reagents. This has resulted in abandoning such line of research and opting for affordable approaches where resources can be easily sourced locally.
Running a molecular biology and or a microbiology laboratory in resource poor countries not only requires the right equipment and skill set but also a reliable power supply. A reliable power supply is needed to keep the equipment running including storage facilities for reagents and samples. Samples and reagents that are not stored at optimum temperatures, are more likely not to work effectively and may result in poor outcomes.
Most often emerging, re-emerging and Neglected tropical diseases occur in rural areas most of which have poorly equipped health centers that are understaffed and can not run microbiology or molecular biology tests for diagnosis of these diseases. As such there is need for samples to be transferred to research laboratories in nearby towns and cities where laboratories are available. For some preparing the samples for transportation and the transportation itself can be a big challenge.
There is need to improve capacity in form of well equipped laboratories that can be able to carry out diagnostic tests such as those requiring PCR and other diagnostic techniques. To attain this not only are skilled personnel required but also steady power supply, equipment, funding and reagents. Lack of funding could result in abandoning such approaches.
It is essential to build capacity at all levels but also there is need to improve infrastructure so that people are able to use their skills to their maximum potential.