Strengthening the Physician Workforce in Africa

Given the striking paucity of physicians in Africa, investing in medical education is becoming a necessary component of health system strengthening efforts. In the United States we have approximately 1 doctor for 390 people. In parts of Tanzania, there is 1 doctor for 50,000 people! Despite this large gap, Sub-Saharan Africa with a population of 800 million people, has about the same number of medical schools (about 160) as the US with a population of 300 million people. We also know that the schools in Africa lack adequate infrastructure, faculty and resources.

So scaling up the physician workforce in Africa is going to mean a heavy investment in medical schools. The US Government is the first recognize this need and invest in addressing the gaps. The Medical Education Partnership Initiative is a 150million dollar investment over 5 years to primarily 13 medical schools in Africa. Many of the grantees have partnered with other schools so the reach is actually to over 30 African Medical Schools.

Recently, an article we published in Health Affairs, describes this large initiative and  how the different schools are using their funding to scale up their output. The three goals of the grant are to increase the quantity/quality of their graduates, to improve retention rates of graduates and to increase the capacity of the medical schools to do locally driven, and locally relevant research.

This past August in Addis Ababa, was the 2nd MEPI Annual Symposium where all the schools came together to share stories. Some notable trends:

  • All schools are investing in technology to transform learning, to access new content and/or to make management functions more efficient
  • All schools are investing in community-based education in some form. Some in ‘exposure’ type rotations, others in clinical rotations and others are creating rural immersion experiences
  • All schools are scaling up faculty development activities in an effort to recruit and retain more faculty
  • Many of the schools have used this large external investment as a means to bring together government stakeholders (the ministries of education and health) to discuss the pipeline of physician training.
  • Medical schools and African governments are starting to appreciate the urgent need for a physician tracking system that would allow them to see where their physicians go after graduation -an effort to improve their return on investment in medical education.

These are but a few of the innovations in medical education that have been stimulated by MEPI. As we now enter year 3 of a 5 year grant, we are certain to see and hear more about this important initiative.

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