Health Care in Africa
In order to alleviate the burden of chronic and infectious illnesses, countries across Africa need more health care professionals. According to the WHO, Africa has access to only 3% of the world’s health workers while suffering from over 24% of the global burden of disease. As the WHO wrote in the Global strategy on human resources for health: Workforce 2030 report, “Health systems can only function with health workers.” Here is some additional information about health care in Africa and the measures that some are taking to increase the number of health care professionals through online education.

To Improve Health Outcomes, Africa Needs More Health Professionals

According to the WHO, health priorities such as reducing maternal and infant mortality; expanding access to surgery; eliminating AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis; improving overall mental health and addressing non-communicable and chronic disease mortality will only be possible if Africa makes a significant improvement to its health care workforce capacity.

Underinvestment in health care worker training has led to shortages. It has also reduced the ability of health systems to manage the burden of disease and stay resilient in the face of natural disasters. To meet current global health challenges, the WHO projects that the world will need 18 million more healthcare workers, with the need particularly acute in low-resource settings.

How to Train More Health Care Professionals

The question stands: how can millions of health care workers receive quality training quickly? To create low cost, easily scalable ways of training public health care workers all over the world, many nonprofit organizations are now creating open educational resources (OERS). In addition to being less expensive than in-person instruction, the flexibility of online educational resources allows for current and future health care workers to customize their education to their own needs.


One of these organizations, People’s Open Access Education Initiative, abbreviated as Peoples-uni, emerged to build public health capacity by training health professionals online for a low cost. Peoples-uni courses come in two categories: public health problems such as HIV/AIDs, injury prevention and maternal mortality, as well as foundation sciences of public health topics including biostatistics, health economics, public health nutrition and social determinants of health. A reported 70% of Peoples-uni students are from Africa, helping expand health care capacity across the continent.

Peoples-uni offers master’s degrees and PhDs in collaboration with its partner, Euclid University. Euclid University started via an intergovernmental treaty and has received approval from the United Nations. In addition to masters and Ph.D. degrees, Peoples-uni offers professional development certificates. This helps keep public health professionals up to date with the skills they need to do their jobs.

A more health-literate population is better able to take care of itself, so in addition to training health care professionals, Peoples-uni has also implemented online training to teach the public about key health topics. The World Health Organization ran a Health Academy from 2003-2016, using online education to teach people about topics including tuberculosis, malaria, AIDs, nutrition and injury prevention. The WHO partnered with countries including Gambia, Ghana and Jordan in order to bring Health Academy classes to public schools.

Since the end of 2016, the WHO has continued work on creating and compiling e-Health tools, including IMCI Computerized Adaptation and Training Tool (ICAT). ICAT emerged to help train health care professionals in Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategies (IMCI) that the WHO developed.

A Lack of Technological Infrastructure

Implementing online education initiatives comes with challenges including limited access to the Internet or computers. Many low resource regions that need health care worker training the most do not have these. Africa as a whole has an average 39% internet penetration, with the percentage far lower in some nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Around 8% of the DRC population has access to the internet. The DRC is is currently experiencing outbreaks of infectious diseases including Ebola.

In order for initiatives such as Peoples-uni and the WHO’s online education tools to gain traction in Africa, a basic infrastructure of reliable internet and technology access is necessary. According to the World Health Organization’s systematic review of online education for undergraduate health professional education, lack of internet access is a significant barrier to the success of online education as a tool to educate health care professionals. Scaling up health care capacity using online education requires pre-existing technical capacity.

– Tamara Kamis
Photo: Flickr