Increasing the availability of health workers in rural sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review of rural pipeline programmes

D Kolié, R Van De Pas, L Codjia, P Zurn

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review


Rural pipeline approach has recently gain prominent recognition in improving the availability of health workers in hard-to-reach areas such as rural and poor regions. Understanding implications for its successful implementation is important to guide health policy and decision-makers in Sub-Saharan Africa. This review aims to synthesize the evidence on rural pipeline implementation and impacts in sub-Saharan Africa.

We conducted a scoping review using Joanna Briggs Institute guidebook. We searched in PubMed and Google scholar databases and the grey literature. We conducted a thematic analysis to assess the studies. Data were reported following the PRISMA extension for Scoping reviews guidelines.

Of the 443 references identified through database searching, 22 met the inclusion criteria. Rural pipeline pillars that generated impacts included ensuring that more rural students are selected into programmes; developing a curriculum oriented towards rural health and rural exposure during training; curriculum oriented to rural health delivery; and ensuring retention of health workers in rural areas through educational and professional support. These impacts varied from one pillar to another and included: increased in number of rural health practitioners; reduction in communication barriers between healthcare providers and community members; changes in household economic and social circumstances especially for students from poor family; improvement of health services quality; improved health education and promotion within rural communities; and motivation of community members to enrol their children in school. However, implementation of rural pipeline resulted in some unintended impacts such as perceived workload increased by trainee’s supervisors; increased job absenteeism among senior health providers; patients’ discomfort of being attended by students; perceived poor quality care provided by students which influenced health facilities attendance. Facilitating factors of rural pipeline implementation included: availability of learning infrastructures in rural areas; ensuring students’ accommodation and safety; setting no age restriction for students applying for rural medical schools; and appropriate academic capacity-building programmes for medical students. Implementation challenges included poor preparation of rural health training schools’ candidates; tuition fees payment; limited access to rural health facilities for students training; inadequate living and working conditions; and perceived discrimination of rural health workers.

This review advocates for combined implementation of rural pipeline pillars, taking into account the specificity of country context. Policy and decision-makers in sub-Saharan Africa should extend rural training programmes to involve nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals. Decision-makers in sub-Saharan Africa should also commit more for improving rural living and working environments to facilitate the implementation of rural health workforce development programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Health workers
  • Medical education reforms
  • Rural pipeline programmes
  • Scoping review
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


Dive into the research topics of 'Increasing the availability of health workers in rural sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review of rural pipeline programmes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this