BACKGROUND: The role of health systems research (HSR) in informing and guiding national programs and policies has been increasingly recognized. Yet, many universities in sub-Saharan African countries have relatively limited capacity to teach HSR. Seven schools of public health (SPHs) in East and Central Africa undertook an HSR institutional capacity assessment, which included a review of current HSR teaching programs. This study determines the extent to which SPHs are engaged in teaching HSR-relevant courses and assessing their capacities to effectively design and implement HSR curricula whose graduates are equipped to address HSR needs while helping to strengthen public health policy.
METHODS: This study used a cross-sectional study design employing both quantitative and qualitative approaches. An organizational profile tool was administered to senior staff across the seven SPHs to assess existing teaching programs. A self-assessment tool included nine questions relevant to teaching capacity for HSR curricula. The analysis triangulates the data, with reflections on the responses from within and across the seven SPHs. Proportions and average of values from the Likert scale are compared to determine strengths and weaknesses, while themes relevant to the objectives are identified and clustered to elicit in-depth interpretation.
RESULTS: None of the SPHs offer an HSR-specific degree program; however, all seven offer courses in the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree that are relevant to HSR. The general MPH curricula partially embrace principles of competency-based education. Different strengths in curricula design and staff interest in HSR at each SPH were exhibited but a number of common constraints were identified, including out-of-date curricula, face-to-face delivery approaches, inadequate staff competencies, and limited access to materials. Opportunities to align health system priorities to teaching programs include existing networks.
CONCLUSIONS: Each SPH has key strengths that can be leveraged to design and implement HSR teaching curricula. We propose networking for standardizing HSR curricula competencies, institutionalizing sharing of teaching resources, creating an HSR eLearning platform to expand access, regularly reviewing HSR teaching content to infuse competency-based approaches, and strengthening staff capacity to deliver such curricula.