The Republic of South Sudan has suffered decades of civil war, which has devastated its communities and infrastructure. The health-care system has not been immune to this strife — currently there is only about 1 doctor per 100,000 people.

South Sudan looked to its African neighbors for solutions to its health-care provider shortage and started the Clinical Officer training program sixteen years ago. There are currently two training institutes for Clinical Officers in the country, the Maridi and Juba Health Sciences Institutes.

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David Manana, a Ugandan health tutor, is the head of the Clinical Officer program at Maridi Health Sciences Institute in South Sudan. He spoke with us about the struggles clinicians face, the type of clinical work they do, and the funding his program receives.

In 1998, the South Sudan Clinical Officer training program was started during the height of the civil war.  South Sudan’s neighbors, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, had already developed Clinical Officer programs, with profession’s roots dating back to 1918 in Uganda and the 1960s in Kenya. It seemed a natural solution for South Sudan to develop its own program.

The Maridi National Health Training Institute became the first to offer the Clinical Officer program in South Sudan with the aid of AMREF Health Africa. As of November 2014, the program has produced 475 Clinical Officers, which constitute 70% of all the Clinical Officers in South Sudan.

The first group graduated in 2001, and the government is now interested in producing 5,000 more Clinical Officers because it currently values the role these professionals play in the country’s health-care delivery system.

Students are recruited through the Directorate of Training and Professional Development at the Ministry of Health, and the current curriculum stipulates a minimum age of 30 years.  What is most impressive about the program is that all the Clinical Officers who have graduated are employed and working  in both urban and rural areas of South Sudan. 

Clinical Officer students spend 50% of their time in the classroom and the other 50% of their time learning clinical skills, according to Manana. The three-year program covers public health, nursing and surgical procedures, anatomy, orthopedics, pathology, pharmacology, psychology, and psychiatry.

The clinical education component is divided between health centers and training hospitals. After three years of training, students do an internship for one year to further perfect their practical skills — diagnosing and treating diseases, educating the community, and performing minor surgical procedures.