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Proposed AU medical program could make immediate impact

4/27/1999 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

By Andra Stevens*

MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) - Africa University has a major opportunity to provide innovative programs in the medical sciences, according to a team conducting a feasibility study on the addition of a faculty of medicine at the school.

Programs in the medical sciences would have an immediate impact on the health of people in Africa and could form the foundation for a medical science faculty, or area of study, at the United Methodist-related university, the team said.

The team of medical specialists reported its findings to the 30 members of Africa University's board of directors during an April 7-9 board meeting. The group of specialists is led by Dr. James Holsinger Jr., chancellor of the Chandler Medical School at the University of Kentucky.

Training professionals for health promotion, disease prevention and infectious disease management in Africa should be a high priority for the new faculty, Holsinger said in his progress report.

Though some African countries have made steady progress in improving access to health care in the past 20 years, there is no mistaking the general lack of trained local health care professionals in sub-Saharan Africa, he said. The percentage of people with access to health care in 1993, in those nations reporting, ranged from a low of 24 percent in Angola to a high of 86 percent in Tanzania, he noted.

The eight-member team began the feasibility study last November. Since then, team members have framed the study, conducted research for a needs assessment and made on-site visits to health care and medical sciences training facilities.

The team's health profiles review of countries in sub-Saharan Africa revealed wide disparities in the ratio of doctors, dentists and nurses to population. In Uganda and Tanzania, for example, the World Health Organization's estimate of health personnel in 1991-1995 was four physicians per 100,000 people. In South Africa, the estimate was 59 physicians per 100,000 people.

The 1996 Zimbabwe National Health Profile report shows sub-Saharan Africa with a ratio of 18,514 people to each physician. The ratio for developing countries is 5,833 to each physician, compared to 350 per physician in developed countries and 900 people per physician in the world as a whole. The statistics on dentists and nurses follow a similar pattern.

In its presentation to the board, the team highlighted two programs - one in nursing and the other in health management - that could be a foundation for a faculty of medical services.

The needs assessment research undertaken by the team pointed to a strong market for students for a bachelor of science degree in nursing. While many African countries offer training at the certificate or diploma level and maintain a professional registration process, the opportunities for nurses to upgrade that training to degree level are few. The team is evaluating the potential of a two-year, 60-hour-plus degree program for nurses to build on their training in a registered health program in their home country.

A bachelor of science degree program in public health and one in health sciences are also under consideration. Both would equip professionals with the skills and knowledge to lead and manage health clinics and organizations and work directly with agencies and governments in the field.

Over the next few months, United Methodist bishops in Africa are being asked to help the team carry out a health care practitioner survey. The survey will gather data in 15 African countries on current levels of training among practitioners; licensing, registration and certification procedures; the health care environment; and practitioners' views on training gaps and needs.

The study team includes members from Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tenn.; Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing and Allied Health, Omaha, Neb.; the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; and the West China University of Medical Sciences. The team hopes to complete its report in September, and it is expected to submit a proposal document to the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in October and to the executive committee of Africa University's board in November.

The new faculty, the sixth of seven listed on Africa University's master plan, is not expected to be introduced before the 2002-2003 academic year. The school already offers bachelor's degree programs in five faculties: agriculture and natural resources, education, humanities and social sciences, management and administration, and theology. Africa University also offers master's degrees in theological studies and business administration.

Africa University is the only United Methodist-related university on the continent. It opened in 1992 and has 783 students from 15 African countries. The school has been supported by United Methodist churches through an apportioned fund of $10 million every four years since 1988.
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*Stevens is director of information at Africa University.

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