The High Tech Programmes Advancing Medical Training in Africa

Africa has 6 out of 10 fastest growing economies but, as the African Development Bank notes, it’s also the continent with the highest disease burden in the world.

With 12% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s burden of diseases, Sub-Saharan Africa is said to have only 3% of the world’s health workforce. Leaders in the healthcare sector understand the importance of human capital in reversing these trends. That pretty much explains why 77% of respondents in a WHO survey of over 110 Africa and Middle East healthcare leaders rated training and education to improve skills and enhance capacity as the single most important need to improve healthcare in their country. Below are 3 high tech skills building programmes helping to advance medical training on the continent.

1. SUNSkill Virtual Medical Lab

The state-of-the-art medical laboratory at Stellenbosch University’s medical campus in Cape Town, South Africa, opened in 2016 with the aim to provide trainees exposure to cutting-edge procedural techniques through simulation of a real-world operating environment.

Named SUNSkill, it’s a multimillion dollar collaborative effort between the university and a global medical technology company. The lab has eight fully simulated theatre operating stations, covering neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, plastic surgery, vascular surgery, general surgery and laparoscopy.

“Surgical proficiency requires a rigorous understanding of the human anatomy and surgical techniques in order to successfully alleviate disease. Specialist surgical training has always required a fine balance between doctors gaining surgical experience while not putting patients’ health at risk in order to do so. Our specialists-in-training now have a ‘safe’, observed environment where they are able to perfect their skills before operating,” said Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, the Vice Dean, Research of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The training facilities are expected to be rolled out in other African countries, with Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia cited as potential locations.

2. Medical Simulation Lab


A collaboration between Royal Philips and University of Johannesburg (“UJ”), the state-of-the-art medical training simulation lab provides hands-on training to medical students in South Africa by providing precise simulations in imitated medical emergency settings.

“It is important that students have a fully incorporated curriculum with simulation as a key component of teaching and assessment,” says Dr Craig Lambert, Head of the Department of Emergency Medical Care, at University of Johannesburg. Dr. Lambert said staff and students had made use of classrooms that were not purposefully designed for simulation-based learning.

With that background, they started to explore ideas around creating an integrated, multi-disciplinary laboratory that would focus on teaching and assessment of clinical skills in a simulation environment.

3. 3D Radiotherapy Access to Care program


This programme uses advanced computer technology to create a virtual environment that provides a safe space for practical training aimed at building the capacity of caregivers to deliver conformal radiotherapy treatments for cancer patients.

“As radiation oncology becomes increasingly precise and cancer centers worldwide can offer ever more advanced treatments for their patients, many parts of the developing world are still significantly under-equipped with too few machines to treat their rapidly growing cancer populations,” said Michael Sandhu of Varian Oncology Systems global market development team.

The Access to Care programme runs twice a year in South Africa, catering to four teams of radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and radiotherapy therapists from participating hospitals across Africa. It includes three weeks of classroom-based training at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, which is equipped with a virtual linear accelerator and four workstations, followed by a 10-week remote mentorship program.