Brendan Bain, Director
It is relevant to note that at the dawn of the new millennium, the Caribbean had the second highest prevalence of AIDS in the world, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2007, although case rates had fallen, the region was still second globally and ahead of all other regions in the Americas. (According to the UNAIDS 2008 report, the estimated adult prevalence rate of HIV infection in the Caribbean was 1.1% in 2007.)
In 2001, an organized HIV/AIDS Response Program (HARP) was started at UWI, a multi-campus university with a student population of over 40,000. Four years later, UWI HARP Regional Coordinator, Brendan Bain, a specialist in Clinical Infectious Diseases and Public Health, was invited to start a regional coordinating unit (RCU) within UWI HARP as part of a new multinational Caribbean-wide training program for health care professionals and community-based workers – the CHART Network Initiative (www.chartcaribbean.org). In 2007, UWI HARP competed successfully for a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the establishment of CHLI, to be linked with CHART. The five-year grant is valued at approximately US$2.1 million, with funds coming from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) via CDC.
The CHLI program aims to add to the cadre of competent, confident and committed leaders and managers in the health sector of the Caribbean and to engender positive change in health systems that function in relation to HIV/AIDS and other health issues. The program is being administered by UWI in partnership with the University of North Carolina (UNC) and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and is patterned after the successful National Public Health Leadership Institute program run by staff at UNC. The curriculum is delivered mainly by distance learning and includes two three-day residential retreats. The distance learning component of the CHLI consists of a series of Internet-linked seminars, referred to as webinars. In order to take part in the webinars, scholars arrange their schedules across the time zones and the sessions are facilitated by UWI and UNC faculty.
In December 2007, in preparation for the launch of the first learning cycle, three members of the new CHLI academic team attended the 10-day Leadership beyond boundaries program at CCL in Greensboro, North Carolina. The three: Peter Figueroa, Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS, Ministry of Health, Jamaica; Michelle Harris, Lecturer in Public Health at the Jamaica campus of UWI; and Jose Ortega, Professor of Public Health at the UWI Barbados campus. The exposure gained at CCL provided them with new ideas, approaches and materials as they prepared to lead and interact with the first CHLI scholars.
In April 2008, 23 persons from 12 countries, including the mainland nations of Belize, Guyana and Suriname, were welcomed into the first 10-month learning cycle. The group included leaders of governmental and non-governmental organizations at forefront of the response to HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, deans of two medical schools and senior health administrators.
The first residential retreat was held at the Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica in June. The guest speaker was Stephen Blount, Director, Coordinating Office for Global Health at CDC Headquarters. The UWI Vice-Chancellor and the new Director of the Caribbean CDC GAP, Dr. Shirley Lee Lecher were special dinner guests. Joining the Caribbean Faculty were Edward Baker and Stephen Orton from UNC and Karen Dyer from CCL. Former PAHO/WHO Country Representative, Veta Brown, a retired therapist, Mr. Peter Carr, a former PAHO/WHO representative, and Earl Wright, Director of Mental Health Services in the Jamaican Ministry of Health, were present as mentors.
Peter Figueroa gave the opening presentation. His memorable words were, “Life is a journey!” “Success is a journey & not a destination!” “Leadership is a journey and not a destination!” Stephen Blount spoke about the challenges of Health Leadership in a changing world. He highlighted changes in the Global Economy, in International Relations with new players and structures and the reality of climate change as a few of the environmental realities facing health professionals and Governments. He referred to the several Public Health Challenges in the Caribbean, including chronic non-communicable diseases, injuries, HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse and food security.
The agenda allowed for periods of personal reflection and self-assessment using the Change Style Indicator® from the firm of Discovery Learning and the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO-B®) questionnaire. Many of these experienced leaders were using these self-assessment tools for the first time and several expressed gratitude for the insights they gained from their use. Participants reflected on their learning styles and were introduced to the basics of Peter Senge’s systems thinking approach.
The group of 23 scholars was then divided into five smaller teams. Each team was assigned a mentor and was set a seven-month challenge to work on an Action Learning Project based on a current health issue in the Caribbean. The groups will report to each other at the second retreat, to be held at the Accra Beach Hotel in Barbados in early December.
CDC Headquarters has responded superlatively to the first year of CHLI. In their first feedback report, CDC’s reviewers’ commented that the program demonstrated “excellent project vision and goals and a continuation plan of action which is based upon the solid year 1 accomplishment.” They described it as a “contemporary blend of adult education approaches, technology and practices [that] will make for a powerful learning experience” and stated that it “seems to be rapidly building on the success of other proven leadership and management development programs.”
In February 2009, CHLI will enroll a second cohort of 35 scholars, with invitations being put to persons from 17 countries. The first cohort of scholars will be encouraged to form a Caribbean Health Leadership Alumni Network. The vision is to foster a culture of life-long learning among these leaders and to encourage an intergenerational relay of leadership skills and practice.
The CHLI faculty and staff are enthusiastic as they continue to develop CHLI. We wish to thank UNC and CCL for their partnership in this unique Caribbean initiative.