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Strengthening health systems in Africa

April 29, 2016

Researchers with the Africa Health Systems Initiative (AHSI) have uncovered ways to strengthen health systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Weak health systems cause a high burden of preventable and treatable illnesses, especially for those living in rural areas. Strong health systems are needed to provide adequate access and quality of health care.

Strengthening health systems means overcoming challenges such as staff shortages and inequities in access to care. Ten teams focused their research primarily on frontline health workers and health information systems. Through various studies and interventions, these researchers aimed to make health care more accessible to the most vulnerable, particularly mothers and children.

Improving rural health care

Rural areas face particular challenges associated with a lack of health care staff. Researchers in Burkina Faso found that regionalized recruitment helped to increase the number of nurses and midwives in remote areas. New recruitment and retention methods are therefore an important way to build staffing in rural areas.

Research in Uganda found that training community health workers in common childhood illnesses, such as malaria and diarrhea, increased the number of children receiving treatment. This process of delegating tasks to less specialized health workers is known as “task-shifting,” and it offers promise for increasing access to health care.

Strengthening health information systems

Information technologies can help improve the quality of health care. For example, in Uganda, researchers found that mobile technology helped community health workers in remote areas gather patient information and link it to the health information systems at the main facility.

Telemedicine studied by researchers in French-speaking Africa helped to reduce decision-making errors in remote areas, increase the number of consultations, and save patients money.

The Africa Health Systems Initiative - Support to African Research Partnerships program ran from 2008-2014. It supported teams that were co-led by an African researcher and an African decision-maker, with the support of Canadian researchers. The program was part of the Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI), and was jointly funded by the IDRC, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Health Canada, and the Department of Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

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