New Project to Strengthen Health Education and Training in Kenya Officially Launches

On April 3 in Nairobi, IntraHealth and partners officially launched a new project to support the government of Kenya in making dramatic changes to the country’s health worker education and training systems. Named FUNZOKenya— “Funzo” means training in Kiswahili—the USAID-funded project aims to strengthen pre-service education of health workers and link professional licensure to ongoing professional development. These linkages are critical to ensuring quality health care.

How can a certificate hanging on a wall, earned in 1977, tell patients anything about a health worker’s current skills if ongoing training is not required for licensure or accreditation? Kenya’s Minister of Medical Services Peter Anyang’Nyong’o posed this question during the project’s inaugural event, highlighting the need for professional development and higher standards from licensure to practice. He also announced a plan to competitively hire medical superintendents to manage district and provincial hospitals—roles that have historically been filled by senior health workers whose skills are urgently needed for providing care and who tend to have little or no management training.

The FUNZOKenya project will support increased access to training opportunities through greater use of information and communication technologies. In his speech at the ceremony, Scott Gration, the US ambassador to Kenya, stressed that as Kenya moves toward a decentralized health system, it is critical that counties have health workers with sufficient licensure and ongoing training opportunities. Information technology can help provide more continuing education opportunities to more health workers in more locations.

With this new, five-year, $40 million cooperative agreement, IntraHealth and its partners—including Great Lakes University of Kisumu, the Kenya Healthcare Federation, Moi University, Results for Development Institute, University of Nairobi, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—aim to increase the production of new health workers, improve training for current health workers, and link professional licensure to ongoing professional development.

During the last decade, Kenya has achieved improvements in the overall health of its population, including declines in infant mortality and fertility. However, the health status of the Kenyan population remains vulnerable. HIV (29.3%), maternal-related conditions (9%), and lower respiratory conditions (8.1%) remain top causes of death, while the incidence of non-communicable diseases is growing. Wide health disparities exist geographically and among certain groups, with young people disproportionately affected.

Kenya continues to experience critical shortages of health workers, particularly nurses and clinical officers. Furthermore, shortages are intensified in rural areas, in certain regions (e.g., Northern Kenya), and at lower levels of care. Addressing shortages and upgrading the skills of current health workers to meet Kenya’s evolving disease burden require a dramatic shift in health education and training systems at both the pre-service and in-service levels.

More than 150 people attended the launch event, held at the University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences. IntraHealth speakers included James Mwanzia, FUNZOKenya chief of party; Meshack Ndolo, country director for Kenya; and, as master of ceremonies, Norbert Rakiro, FUNZOKenya deputy chief of party. The event and new project attracted significant local media coverage.

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