African leaders’ views on critical human resource issues for the implementation of family medicine in Africa

Abstract Background The World Health Organisation has advocated for comprehensive primary care teams, which include family physicians. However, despite (or because of) severe doctor shortages in Africa, there is insufficient clarity on the role of the family physician in the primary health care team. Instead there is a trend towards task shifting without thought for teamwork, which runs the risk of dangerous oversimplification. It is not clear how African leaders understand the challenges of implementing family medicine, especially in human resource terms. This study, therefore, sought to explore the views of academic and government leaders on critical human resource issues for implementation of family medicine in Africa. Method In this qualitative study, key academic and government leaders were purposively selected from sixteen African countries. In-depth interviews were conducted using an interview guide. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed. Results There were 27 interviews conducted with 16 government and 11 academic leaders in nine Sub-Saharan African countries: Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda. Respondents spoke about: educating doctors in family medicine suited to Africa, including procedural skills and holistic care, to address the difficulty of recruiting and retaining doctors in rural and underserved areas; planning for primary health care teams, including family physicians; new supervisory models in primary health care; and general human resource management issues. Conclusions Important milestones in African health care fail to specifically address the human resource issues of integrated primary health care teamwork that includes family physicians. Leaders interviewed in this study, however, proposed organising the district health system with a strong embrace of family medicine in Africa, especially with regard to providing clinical leadership in team-based primary health care. Whilst these leaders focussed positively on entry and workforce issues, in terms of the 2006 World Health Report on human resources for health, they did not substantially address retention of family physicians. Family physicians need to respond to the challenge by respondents to articulate human resource policies appropriate to Africa, including the organisational development of the primary health care team with more sophisticated skills and teamwork.