Public health and Africa
In order to help Africa overcome the obstacles ahead of it, numerous public health issues must be addressed. A WHO report, ‘The Health of the People: What Works’, identifies several major threats to health in Africa, including communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; epidemic- and pandemic-prone diseases; neglected tropical disease, and non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, sickle cell disease, noma, mental and neurological disorders, road traffic injuries, and complex disease interactions.
The WHO also sets forth key determinants for health in Africa, including food and nutrition, comprising nutrition, food security and food safety; the physical environment, comprising water, sanitation and hygiene, indoor air pollution, climate change and toxic substances; lifestyle risks, comprising harmful use of alcohol, substance abuse, tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, harmful sexual behavior; and disasters and conflict.
According to research published in International Archives of Medicine, however, weak health systems are a direct impediment to Africa making progress in these areas. Specifically, serious leadership and governance challenges; extreme shortages of healthcare workers exacerbated by the brain drain and inconsistencies in workforce distribution; rampant corruption in medical products and technologies leading to lack of access to essential medicines; a dearth of information and communications technology as well as internet connectivity; low investment in health financing and lack of comprehensive health financing policies and strategic plans; and lack of effective organization and management of health services.
Together, all of these factors amplify the challenges facing Africa. “Effective public health interventions are available to curb the heavy disease burden in Africa. Unfortunately, health systems are too weak to efficiently and equitably deliver those interventions to people who need them, when and where needed,” researchers further assert.
A call for public health leaders
Given the many obstacles blocking the way for Africa, the route forward depends on strengthening national health systems. More specifically, it will depend on qualified healthcare leaders to chart a course for a brighter future. In particular, master’s degrees in public health are identified as being “essential contributors in equipping health practitioners with adequate public health skills to meet the demands of the healthcare system,” according to a recent Public Health Reviews article.
The WHO also calls for: “Public health professionals with the knowledge and skills to deal with myriad public health challenges” with distance learning proposed as a uniquely beneficial solution thanks to its ability to enable workers to continue their current work responsibilities while progressing through their studies at their own pace.”
The WHO further highlights the important role played by scholarships in supporting students aspiring to make a difference in public health in Africa, and Africa investing in its people. “it is high time to enable Africa to educate its own leaders in public health – those needed to execute essential public health functions, improve system performance and form an African voice for public health,” a WHO Bulletin proposes.
Make a difference with the MSc Public Health
So public health experts are in great demand in Africa -- and advanced public health studies can be invaluable for those interested in helping Africa surmount its challenges through work in public health practice, management, or research. Unicaf’s MSc Public Health is designed with the goals of aspiring public health leaders in Africa in mind.
Offered in partnership with the University of Suffolk, the MSc Public Health aims to enable students to apply both theoretical and practical public health knowledge and skills within many contexts. This training will prepare them to drive vital public health change.
The MSc is also in alignment with WHO’s imperatives: not only does it offer all of the benefits of online learning, but funding support is also available through the Unicaf Scholarship Programme. In fact, more than $90 million worth of scholarships have been awarded by Unicaf to date.
“The continent continues to suffer under very rapid urban growth accompanied by massive urban poverty and many other social problems. These seem to indicate that the development trajectories followed by African nations since post-independence may not be able to deliver on the aspirations of broad-based human development and prosperity for all,” The Guardian proposed in its analysis of what Africa will look like two decades from now. Certainly, public health challenges remain one of the most significant obstacles standing in the way of Africa and its bright future. Accordingly, preparing more public health experts to take on these obstacles will be critical to African prosperity.
Article written in association with Unicaf.