Sub-Saharan Africa suffers an inordinate burden of disease and does not have the numbers of suitably trained health care workers to address this challenge. New concepts in health sciences education are needed to offer alternatives to current training approaches.
A perspective of integrated training in population health for undergraduate medical and nursing education is advanced, rather than continuing to take separate approaches for clinical and public health education. Population health science educates students in the social and environmental origins of disease, thus complementing disease-specific training and providing opportunities for learners to take the perspective of the community as a critical part of their education.
Many of the recent initiatives in health science education in sub-Saharan Africa are reviewed, and two case studies of innovative change in undergraduate medical education are presented that begin to incorporate such population health thinking. The focus is on East Africa, one of the most rapidly growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa where opportunities for change in health science education are opening. The authors conclude that a focus on population health is a timely and effective way for enhancing training of health care professionals to reduce the burden of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.