Clinical officer/associates (CO/ClinA) training varies in various regions of the continent Africa, yet there is some similarities in many regions. Training for the profession dates back in the early 1900 (Malawi – 1908) while others joined later on like South Africa in 2008.
The name clinical officer, has changed overtime depending on the country requirements – like the first training in Malawi was called medical assistants which later became clinical officers looking at the roles that this cadre was playing (specialised and comprehensive care in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, anaesthesia, opthalmology). In Zambia for instance, there has also been some progression of the name – clinical officer to Medical Licentiate (ML), with the later being able to take on more roles than the clinical officers. In Kenya on the other hand, being the most stable country with clear career progression of the cadre (a proper model of African region for CO/ClinA), they have maintained the same name over the years even though one can go up to the level of specialty within the same cadre.
Training that the CO/ClinA undergo through in Africa is more of undergraduate of which it ranges from certificate, diploma and bachelor’s degree. Similarly, the years of study are also different and range from 2 years for certificate and 3 years for the degree and diploma (In South Africa, clinA are awarded a degree after 3 years of study while in Malawi, Mozambique and Kenya they are awarded a diploma after 3 years with 1 year internship). This difference is mainly attributed to the various countries’ political stand.
Medical Assistants in some countries are allowed to bridge by attending a further 2 years program to become CO either in a particular specialty or in the generic program of the COs.
After the training, the graduates are allowed to work in various disciplines in the health sector, private, non-governmental and even in managerial departments. Most of professionals in this field in the public health sector, are allocated to the places of need like in the rural health facilities or district hospitals. Furthermore, some of the countries allow this cadre to practice independently or privately depending on the level of experience and also if they meet a certain criteria to practice independently and are registered with the relevant bodies