Public Health in Africa: The Role of National Public Health Institutes

Barry David Schoub


Over the last few decades, substantial efforts have been directed at addressing health issues in Africa and other resource-constrained areas of the world. However, unless these efforts contribute to the development and sustainability of public health infrastructure, workforce capacity, and management processes, the response is likely to have only a short-term impact on the most pressing health problems. National public health institutes (NPHIs) are a sound and viable model for low-resource countries to strengthen national public health infrastructure and capacity. Despite the benefits of an NPHI in focusing resources and improving health outcomes, most countries in Africa currently lack fully functioning NPHIs and are thus ill-prepared to address current and imminent public health threats.

Formally launched in January 2006, the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) was created to help countries with limited public health infrastructure move toward development of a coordinated, science-drive organizational focus for public health decision-making and service delivery. The goal of this new organization is to improve the health of populations, particularly in low-resource countries, by providing an evidence-based framework and strategies to strengthen the ability of existing NPHIs to deliver essential public health functions, establishing new NPHIs or networks to coordinate these functions, and creating a new international community for NPHI leaders to foster public health advocacy, leadership development, and peer assistance.

The extent of organized public health at the national level, and of NPHIs in particular, varies among countries. The spectrum ranges from countries with no organized, government-led focus for public health to those with fully developed NPHIs. This paper considers the state of organized public health in Africa, explains the categories and roles of NPHIs, and describes the IANPHI contribution.

Author's affiliations

Barry David Schoub, National Institute for Communicable Diseases

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Public health; Institutes; Africa; Technical assistance; International association

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2007;97(11):1036.

Article History

Date submitted: 2007-05-21
Date published: 2007-11-22

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