The devastating outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease gripping several nations in West Africa demonstrates the often-overwhelming strains that medical emergencies can put on the continent’s health care systems.
The U.S. government is assisting the international response to the outbreak with financial aid and medical expertise, but there is no substitute for trained local healthcare professionals. With approximately two doctors per 1,000 people, sub-Saharan Africa has the smallest medical workforce in the world, despite carrying 24 percent of the global disease burden. And as soon as new doctors and nurses are ready to begin work, many leave for better paying jobs overseas amid a worldwide shortage of health professionals.
To help address Africa’s critical doctor shortage, since 2010 the United States has provided funding to team medical schools in a dozen African nations with leading medical schools in the United States to create capacity at Africa’s educational institutions to train health care workers and scientists and promote innovation in health education.
The aim is to educate 140,000 doctors, nurses and others by 2015 and increase the number of African scientists conducting clinical research on the continent. At a symposium in Maputo, Mozambique, this month, officials with the U.S. Medical Education Partnership Initiative reported broad progress in the effort.
In Zimbabwe, medical student and postgraduate enrollment have nearly doubled, from 260 in 2010 to 513 last year. With U.S. backing the Ministry of Higher Education has committed additional financial support to sustain the progress. A decentralized training network of 14 regional hospitals has been established in Kenya, providing instruction for more than 300 medical, nursing, dental and pharmacy students.
In Mozambique, Eduardo Mondlane University has joined forces with the University of California, San Diego, to revamp its internal medicine program with improvements such as higher salaries, curriculum changes and Internet access for doctors during their rounds. Other partnerships funded through the MEPI are in Ethiopia, Botswana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana and South Africa.
Health care workers are the heart and soul of any nation’s medical system. The goal of the MEPI program is to provide the training and professional conditions that will reverse Africa’s medical brain drain to help provide the care that people there badly need and deserve.