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Public health PhD overhaul needed to meet demand in Africa

Image: Buena Vista Images, via Getty Images

Lancet policy brief highlights need for more doctoral leaders to address “critical shortage”

Better accreditation, digital learning technologies and professional networks are needed to expand public health doctoral programmes in Africa, academics and public health experts have said.

There’s a “critical shortage” of public health researchers in Africa, authors based in Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, the United States, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Senegal write in a 9 May policy brief published in The Lancet Public Health.

Africa will need at least 12,500 epidemiologists by 2050 to contribute to global health security and practice, the authors write.

They call on ministries of education and health, as well as universities and the Association of Schools of Public Health in Africa, to “introduce and expand competency-based education and standard accreditation” to fill the gap.

Skills gap

The authors write that more doctoral and postdoctoral-level training programmes are needed to meet the demand, despite the fact that most African universities do offer medical training and master of public health programmes.

“Public health programmes should be grounded in core competencies to produce leaders capable of preventing and addressing future health challenges,” the authors write.

They also urge the public health sector in Africa to “strengthen links between academic, practice and research partners”, and to track and share successes and lessons.

Universities need to upgrade digital learning technologies, encourage cross-registration for business and policy courses, and increase investment in research and training infrastructure, they write.

“Substantial investment and commitment through equitable partnerships will be required to truly transform higher education institutions towards advancing public health research and practice in Africa,” the authors say.

Their study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.