ZAMBIA: New institution to tackle medical brain drain

Zambia's government is planning to open a new higher learning institution for training doctors as part of efforts to fight the brain drain. Deputy Minister of Health Dr Solomon Musonda told parliament that intakes of health professionals - doctors, nurses and others - at four other institutions would also be doubled this year in a country said to have 27,000 health workers instead of a required 56,000.

The shortage of health professionals was attributed mostly to brain drain and deaths because of Aids.

"We are aware of the crisis we are facing, in terms of human resources," Musonda said.

A 2006 document, the Human Resource for Health Strategic Plan, was supposed to be reviewed this year.

"With that strategic plan, we have increased the capacity and intake of nurses," the deputy minister added.

There had been construction of infrastructure at the University Teaching Hospital in the capital Lusaka, with the nursing school expanded to double its intake of students.

"This is also happening at Ndola Central Hospital, Roan General Hospital and Kitwe Central Hospital where we are also likely to double intakes this year. We are planning to open another medical school to ensure that we increase the number of doctors. I think the government is moving towards achieving adequate human resource for health," said Musonda.

The government had also put in place a Medical Retention Scheme that provides doctors with incentives such as further training outside the country, new vehicles and school fees for children.

Contributing to the same debate in Parliament, Health Minister Kapembwa Simbao said the retention scheme had been extended to nurses and paramedics. But there were difficulties in controlling the movement of female health staff - for instance, deploying nurses to rural areas - once they were married.

Members of Parliament were also informed that the Education Ministry had signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Zambia to upgrade the qualifications of 6,000 teachers countrywide from diploma to degree level, to tackle the problem of scarce tutors in critical areas such as science and mathematics.

The three-year programme is expected to be implemented this year, with studies conducted through distance learning.

Minister of Science, Technology and Vocational Training Dr Brian Chituwo told legislators a government bursary scheme established in 2005 to encourage female students to study male-dominated sciences had so far benefited 18 students, 13 of whom had graduated. Another of the scheme's objectives was to promote critical skills for national development.

* University World News recently reported the Director General of Zambia's Technical Education Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority, Dr Patrick Nkanza, as saying that 300,000 students completed secondary education every year but only 14,000, or 6%, gain admission to higher education.

While this news is interesting in itself, it is incomplete without some indications of progress on the other critical factors affecting medical Brain Drain in Zambia. For example, career & salary incentives, targeted AIDS programmes and so on. Such rounded reporting would enable better understanding of the potential impact of this initiative.

Vanessa Liston,
Department of Political Science,
Trinity College Dublin