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Building capacity without disrupting health services: public health education for Africa through distance learning

DOI: 10.1186/1478-4491-7-28

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This brief paper describes the innovative aspects of the programme, offering some evaluative indications of its impact, and reviews how the delivery of text-led distance learning has facilitated the realization of the objectives of public health training. Strategies are proposed for scaling up such a programme to meet the growing need in this essential area of health human resource capacity development in Africa.The human resources crisis in Africa is especially acute in the public health field. Sadana and Petrakova [1] note the concentration of public health programmes in "high-income countries" while IJsselmuiden et al. [2] draw attention to the insufficient number of public health programmes in Africa and their limited coverage arising from their inadequate staffing allocation, among other factors.In 1993, when the University of the Western Cape (UWC) established its Public Health Programme (which became a School of Public Health in 2000), public health education in South Africa was concentrated in university medical faculties and did not cater for the broad range of allied health professionals working in the health services. Recognizing the need for "... an adequate supply of equitably distributed and competent personnel" [3], to address the country's public health challenges, the UWC undertook to:? provide an academic environment for appropriate education and training, research and service-oriented courses in the field of public health;? provide field training that is community-based and fosters community partnership;? create a centre for innovative ideas in public health education and research, and become a magnet for international health scholars;? provide a forum for discussion and debate about ethical issues in public health, and empower communities to participate in these debates;? cooperate with future schools of public health in South Africa, the African continent and internationally [Unpublished document: University of the Western Cape: Colloquium: The

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