Producing a capable workforce
Kuku Voyi a
Public health education must be viewed in the context of globalization and practical plans applied to the current situation. Disease knows no border; the developed and developing worlds are united by one scourge – the shortage of a public health workforce. Therefore the issue is not about whether the emphasis should be about the art or science of the discipline, but about public health schools producing a workforce that is capable of protecting the public’s health.
The capacity of public health schools differs vastly, both inter- and intracountry. The argument could be: who determines quality? Clearly, a core curriculum which includes strong leadership training is a useful base from which the different strands of public health can be launched. However, the burden of disease and health of the population within each region and country will influence the emphasis in each focus area. Private, public, academic and other institutions that could contribute to the improvement of public health should collaborate. This innovative approach is being encouraged in public health schools as best practice for community engagement. There is evidence that such practice is beneficial to the community, trainees and the public sector.1
Public health as a discipline requires broadening and should include non-medical disciplines that could contribute to, and thus enrich, the workforce. The health sector can no longer manage and deliver public health without contributions from these other sectors. The type and quantity of the public health workforce is rarely mapped, therefore graduates could be mismatched and may not meet the population’s health requirements. The Essential National Health Research model established by the Commission on Health Research for Development,2 currently used in 60 countries, can be expanded to map health needs against human resources for health supply.
In Africa, the AfriHealth project has endeavoured to map the capacity of institutions offering public health education and training. Regrettably, South–South collaboration, which could help to establish a robust sandwich programme using inter- and intracountry expertise, is uncommon.
The use of technology needs to be exploited to address ways of meeting the needs of a modern world in a resource-poor setting. The Knowledge Management for Public Health (KM4PH) project of the WHO should be considered and analysed as to whether it can benefit public health alumni in rural settings in developing countries.
Supportive links with alumni and purposeful mentorship graduate programmes should be established. These are known to be powerful tools for networking, and for retaining and informing the workforce post-training. ■
- Vermeer A, Tempelman H, editors. Health care in rural South Africa: An innovative approach. VU University Press: Amsterdam; 2006.
- Nuyens Y, Suwanwela C, Johnson N. COHRED and ENHR: An update and look ahead (Part 1). In: Neufeld V, Johnson N, eds. Forging links for health research: Perspectives from the Council on Health Research for Development. Ottawa: IDRC; 2001. pp. 213-40.
- School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.