A decision to ban 15 medical schools in Cameroon from training doctors has sparked anger – although it has been welcomed by the country’s medical profession.
The National Commission for Training in Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry’s move in August prompted the vice-chancellor of the Catholic University of Bamenda, Michael Suh Niba, to call the decision “unjust and unjustifiable”.
He told University World News: “They closed us down, yet they are using our facilities to train doctors for the University of Bamenda. It is unfathomable.”
But the decision has been welcomed by the National Medical Council. Dr George Assam, a council member, could not hide his delight. He insisted that “government could have done more and shut them down permanently".
Only six medical faculties and health science institutes now have authorisation for the 2013-14 academic year.
In the state sector they are the University of Bamenda, the University of Douala, the University of Buea and the University of Yaoundé, and from the private sector the Université des Montagnes in Bangangté and the Higher Institute of Medicine in Nkolondom.
At the time that the decision was made public, none of the private institutions receiving bans had yet graduated any students, although plenty were under instruction.
Raphael Tchomnou, a board member of the Catholic University of Bamenda, which had medical students in the fourth year of an eight-year programme, said that not all students from the universities losing certification had been admitted to the six authorised universities.
This posed a “real problem” for the students and the universities losing certification, who had been guaranteeing them an education.
As a result, the commission has tried to mitigate the impact of its actions by recommending that unauthorised schools continue training students and issue biomedical and medico-sanitary degrees, instead of medical doctor certificates.
Assam, however, is worried about this: “I envisage a problem with students using their biomedical certificates to practise medicine.”
That said, registered students would also be allowed to pursue studies in one of the six authorised facilities, if selected by the Ministry of Higher Education, which will organise a national examination for admittance to courses at the six approved schools.
Meanwhile, efforts are under way to ensure that the licensed schools meet acceptable standards. Indeed, the Université des Montagnes has been told not to open its medical school for the current academic year.
Even though the school has laboratories, a teaching hospital, a library and teaching staff, Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo claimed to the local newspaper Mutations that these facilities were ill equipped.
Senior officials at the university told University World News that they hoped to resolve the problem and were speaking to the government to reach a solution.
The growth in medical schools followed a 1993 decision to decentralise and expand the public university system. The lone University of Yaoundé was then overcrowded and demand for higher education was rising steeply.
The reforms were meant to professionalise university studies, increasing the number of graduates able to undertake professional tasks in the workforce. The government allowed private capital to finance and manage higher education, and entrepreneurs took advantage.
The higher education ministry was then heavily criticised for the liberal distribution of licences for medical schools, but it argued that Cameroon desperately needed more doctors and dentists.
Assam claims the result, 20 years on, is that the country is awash with medical schools with few resources, which are heavily dependent on part-time staff: “There was no standardised curriculum and output was poor,” he said.
Under the leadership of the late Dr Daniel Muna, the National Medical Council was very vocal in denouncing the poor quality of training in some institutions. It implored government to not only regulate but also stop the spread of private institutions offering medical education.
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