"Policy Idol" and the Pandemic

This year, global health students and RTI mentors created COVID-19 policy proposals for 5 countries

Published May 27, 2020 under Education News

Written by Mary Brophy Marcus

Policy Idol Kenya and COVID

Mentored by experts from RTI, student groups created coronavirus health policy proposals for Kenya, Cambodia, Guatemala, Nigeria and Uganda. (Photo courtesy of CPIGH)

Gavin Yamey’s “Policy Idol” class was raring to go this spring. A DGHI favorite, Yamey named the course after a popular television show, where contestants are pitted against each other in a musical competition. 

At the start, global health policy students form groups representing different low- and middle-income countries and, similar to the show’s set-up, compete against each other. Their mission: To see who can come up with the best health policy solution for a current health challenge. For the past two years, the class has partnered with RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute. Each group pairs with a mentor from RTI who has expertise and experience in their assigned country.

This year, Yamey, associate director for policy at Duke Global Health Institute and director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, and RTI’s Maureen Black and Cristina Bisson, had created a project theme focused on Nurturing Care Framework. In January, students were placed in one of five country groups — Cambodia, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda — and Black and Bisson presented information about the health challenge during a live forum.

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RTI's Dr. Black

The students wanted to try and provide some analysis that could be practically helpful.

Gavin Yamey, Associate Director for Policy, Duke Global Health Institute

But by mid-March, Duke closed campus and the class scattered to their respective homes around the U.S. and the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From there, RTI, Yamey and his students jumped into virtual class mode and by unanimous agreement, they shifted the semester’s theme and the groups refocused to develop proposals reflecting the global pandemic.

“The students wanted to try and provide some analysis that could be practically helpful,” Yamey told DGHI.

In a recent Duke Today article, he also explained that they had already completed “the groundwork to understand the health issues in their countries, how the health system is structured and funded and who is delivering services.” It would be a natural transition — if not a challenging one — to develop policy programs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their country and to care for infected patients, while weaving their understanding of their country's capabilities into the context.

On April 9th, the student groups presented their final health policy proposals via Zoom, sharing well-thought-out slide presentations on how to address COVID-19. The judges, who included Black, Bisson and Chris Plowe, director of the Duke Global Health Institute, voted all of the teams Policy Idol 2020 winners.

In a blog post about the partnership, Alison Mitchell LeFew, project manager for the RTI-Duke Global Development Initiative, wrote, “The students’ presentations were rich in context, insightful and reflective of collaborative learning.”

RTI went on to share the final analyses with their country collaborators.