In September, 40 health policy managers and administrators from seven African countries completed ICAP’s health systems strengthening (HSS) course. This training program, now in its second year, was developed by ICAP with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to enhance the capacity of US government field staff and partners to design, oversee and monitor health systems strengthening efforts, an important focus of PEPFAR’s work.

The training program began in May 2013 in Cape Town, bringing together participants from US Government offices and ministries of health in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia. The course’s foundational phase introduces participants to the principles and goals of health systems strengthening and best practices for evidence-based HSS interventions, with a focus on human resources, health financing, governance, and service delivery.

The participants then devoted the following three months to distance education, completing three modules of reading, lectures and weekly online discussion sessions. Each distance education module represents a deeper dive into topics covered in the in-person training developing participants’ ability to utilize systems thinking tools to identify and define priority health systems challenges for their country and context.

The training culminated in a three-and-a-half day, in-person workshop focused on monitoring and evaluation of HSS efforts. Throughout the training program, each country team worked on a project proposal, enabling them to apply their new HSS skills to a locally relevant health systems challenge, particularly barriers to HIV program scale-up. The Botswana team proposed a project to improve the country’s drug supply management processes, while the Mozambique team worked on a project to improve human resources planning and allocation.

After completing the course, participants return to their organizations in PEPFAR-priority countries with a stronger understanding of the interactions between HIV programs and the broader health systems. They can identify ways to enhance positive impacts and mitigate negative impacts on the health system. And they have an enhanced ability to advocate for and design, implement, and evaluate the HSS activities that are urgently needed at the national, regional and community level in their country.

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