COVID-19 and medical education in Africa: a cross sectional analysis of the impact on medical students

BMC Med Educ. 2021 Dec 9;21(1):605. doi: 10.1186/s12909-021-03038-3.


Background: The African continent currently experiences 25% of the global burden of disease with only 1.3% of the world's healthcare workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to medical education systems, increasing the strain on already-vulnerable regions. Our study examines the impact of COVID-19 on medical students across 33 countries in the African continent.

Methods: A 39-item anonymous electronic survey was developed and distributed to medical students across Africa through social networks to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical education. The survey assessed the domains of: class structure changes and timing, patient interactions, exam administration, learning environment satisfaction, mental health impacts, and volunteer opportunities/engagement.

Results: 694 students across 33 countries participated. 80% of respondents had their classes suspended for varied lengths of time during the pandemic, and from these students 59% of them resumed their classes. 83% of students felt they were in a supportive learning environment before the pandemic, which dropped to 32% since the start. The proportion of students taking exams online increased (6-26%, p<0.001) and there was a decrease in the proportion of students seeing patients as a part of their education (72-19%, p<0.001).

Conclusions: COVID-19 is harming medical students in Africa and is likely to worsen the shortage of the future's healthcare workforce in the region. Pandemic-related impacts have led to a degradation of the learning environment of medical students. Medical schools have shifted online to differing degrees and direct patient-care in training of students has decreased. This study highlights the urgent need for flexible and innovative approaches to medical education in Africa.

Keywords: Africa; COVID-19; Health disparities; Medical education; Medical students; Pandemic.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Education, Distance*
  • Education, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Students, Medical*