Training Healthcare Workers in Africa

Healthcare workers in Botswana photo by Richard Feldman
Healthcare workers in Botswana photo by Richard Feldman

A good doctor is hard to find, especially in Africa. Although it bears 24% of the global disease burden, Africa has only 3% of the world’s healthcare workers. To address this issue, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) will provide $130 million over five years to African institutions in twelve countries. This new program, the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI), provides funding to help train 140,000 new Africa-based healthcare workers and improve medical education across the continent.

The new University of Botswana School of Medicine (UBSOM), the first medical school in the country, has been awarded a MEPI grant of about $2 million a year for five years. The money could not have come at a better time. UBSOM, which just welcomed its second class, is busy developing curricula and constructing facilities. Partnering with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), the School of Medicine now has funding to offer public health training, to strengthen mentoring to students and residents, and to provide continuing medical education to clinicians and faculty.

By collaborating with well-known institutions like Harvard and Penn, UBSOM can offer affiliated appointments that will help attract and retain talented faculty members and establish a rigorous academic environment. “The partnership is not about bringing Africans to U.S. institutions, but rather about strengthening African institutions,” said Dr. Richard Marlink, Executive Director of the Harvard AIDS Initiative, who is leading HSPH’s involvement.

Botswana’s new School of Medicine will help improve the country’s capacity to deliver healthcare. At the same time, the MEPI-funded programs will encourage young doctors and nurses to remain in Botswana, counteracting the exodus of healthcare workers who often leave for more lucrative positions in the West and elsewhere.

“We are building on lessons that the AIDS crisis taught us in Botswana and in Africa,” said Marlink. “MEPI represents a long-term commitment to train and to improve the human infrastructure. And that long-term investment will improve the overall health of the people in Botswana and the region.”