Two years ago, the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) was launched to increase the quality, quantity and retention of health care workers and the faculty needed to train them. The program is investing about $130 million over five years through direct awards to African institutions in a dozen countries. Within this initiative is the emphasis of preventive care training at medical schools. In Africa, the correlation between preventive care training and non-communicable diseases is particularly important.
Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are key risk factors for the major non communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. While Africa faces a double burden of infectious and chronic diseases, infectious diseases still account for at least 69% of deaths on the continent. If there is to be a shift in focus from curative to preventive care, the medical school curriculum must include nutrition and physical activity education. So far, MEPI has led to a fundamental change in the way African institutions and government leaders approach medical education. Institutions are changing curricula content and expanding the breadth and depth of subject matter that emphasize the importance of preventive care.
In Durban, South Africa, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) is expanding its approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The university has packaged a series of workshops called “Me and HIV,” to enhance sensitivity about HIV/AIDS among health workers. These workshops examine the myths, realities, attitudes and perceptions of HIV/AIDS, prevention strategies and how to help people learn to live with their condition. Emphasizing the importance of preventive care through medical school is crucial in creating sustainable prevention-oriented physician practices. The role of the physician is vital since patients cite their physician most often as the one who influenced them most to make a health behavior change. If MEPI remains successful, medical education in Africa will have a positive impact on people’s health in the continent.