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. . . as Zambia rescues stranded Lesotho School of Medicine students
ZAMBIA’S Copperbelt University School of Medicine has come to the rescue of 31 Lesotho School of Medicine (LSOM) students whose future had been thrown into disarray after it emerged the institution did not meet the required international standards.
LSOM was established in 2014 with the hope of alleviating Lesotho’s dire shortage of medical doctors but an incessant funding crisis saw the school failing to attract relevant teaching staff and ultimately, produce the expected curriculum.
A Quality Assurance Committee of the Lesotho Council on Higher Education (CHE) sealed the college’s fate last year when it recommended the school should not be accredited to train doctors as it did not have the capacity to produce such specialised personnel.
After the recommendation, LSOM stopped enrolling its second intake that was supposed to start on its programme in September 2015.
The future of the first intake had, meanwhile, remained uncertain amid reports the students had virtually stopped turning up for classes at the National Health Training Centre in Maseru where the lessons were being held.
However, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Lesotho and Zambia this week would see Copperbelt University School of Medicine officials visiting Maseru next week to assess the 31 students and enroll the entire group.
Education and Training Minister, Dr Mahali Phamotse, yesterday confirmed the impending visit and said the assessment is set to determine the level at which the students would be admitted at the Zambian university.
“It is true we signed an MOU on education with Zambia which will enable our 31 second-year medical students to continue with their studies,” Dr Phamotse said yesterday.
“A group of experts from Copperbelt University will be coming to Lesotho next week to assess the students and see how far they had gone in their studies.”
Dr Phamotse said the government was justified in sending the learners to Zambia as it was “an open secret” that the Lesotho School of Medicine did not meet the required standards for it to qualify as a medical college.
“We believe sending them to Zambia is a good, practical and sensible decision as the Lesotho School of Medicine’s programmes were not even accredited by CHE,” the minister said.
Dr Phamotse said the LSOM was in no condition to produce world-class doctors as it lacked equipment and lecturers.
“The lack of equipment meant that the students’ education was going to be compromised and we also discovered that clinical practical lessons were going to be compromised.”
This, the minister added, would have seen LSOM producing half-baked doctors at a time Lesotho was in desperate need of this critical skill.
“When the Lesotho School of Medicine was launched, it fell under the Ministry of Health which was absurd since the Ministry of Edu- cation and Training is responsible for education in this country,” Dr Phamotse said.
“I was not a minister at the time but I strongly believe there was poor coordination between the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education and this negatively affected the students as their education was not prioritized.”
Dr Phamotse said with the MOU, Lesotho stands to benefit from Zambia’s advanced medical training facilities.
“Zambia has recorded milestones in medical training and is among regional countries with the best medical students. We are therefore optimistic that basotho students will gain a lot from studying in that country,” she said.
Dr Phamotse however, said there are certain “logistics” which need to be ironed out first before the students leave for Zambia.
“Government will now have to sort out issues like funding from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) before the students can leave for Zambia,” she said.
The students have to sign contracts with NMDS regarding their fees and upkeep in Zambia among other things, the minister added. Repeated attempts to get a comment from Health Minister Dr Molotsi Monyamane on the issue were not successful last night.
However, last year the minister told the Lesotho Times when CHE’S Quality Assurance Committee issued its verdict in 2015 that the government would not allow the medical school to collapse. Dr Monyamane also said plans were underway to merge the school with the National University of Lesotho which he said would address its many challenges.
“We cannot chase away students while negotiations for a merger with NUL are in progress. What stakeholders should also be aware of is that the government, through the Ministry of Health, has now budgeted funds for the school. The money is expected to come in the next financial year and that budget would go a long way towards ensuring the school does not have any more challenges,” said Dr Monyamane at the time.
The minister also emphasised the medical school was an initiative of the government which would not be allowed to collapse.
“This initiative should be linked to an institution of higher learning as opposed to falling under the Ministry of Health as is the case now, for it to conform to the standards of higher learning institutions.
“We came up with the medical school due to the dire need for health professionals in this country. The medical school is a priority for us as we need diverse skills in our hospitals.
“I need to mention that we already have doctors who are doing a sterling job in different hospitals but our general population needs basotho doctors who would easily in- teract with patients like our grandmothers in our communities. This is why the medical school needs the assistance of the NUL,” said Dr Monyamane.
“It is not in the best interest of the government for the school to be closed; we should be mindful that the medical school is about access to education and access to healthcare.
“We need more doctors, so for us to get them, we need this school to function properly under the laws of this country.
“We have been advised by the Council of Higher Education that the school needs to be functioning under an already established institution to guarantee that it conforms to the laws that established CHE, hence the ongoing negotiations with the NUL.
“We want to see this medical school in- crease the number of specialist doctors in our hospitals so that we can reduce the burden on Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
“We want to see the school curriculum include courses for community health extension officers who would be professionally trained and easily accessible to communities.
“The government of Lesotho is dedicated to supporting the medical school as it needs to have its own institution that trains doctors.”
Dr Monyamane also said whatever challenges the college might be facing are “teething problems” it would overcome with time.
Meanwhile, Zambia’s Higher Education Minister Michael Kaingu was quoted saying that in terms of the MOU, his country will also send students to Lesotho for training in various disciplines.
Education and training Minister dr Mahali Phamotse.