SWAZILAND: First school of medicine to be built

The kingdom of Swaziland will soon have its first medical school as the country moves to strengthen its capacity to respond to a devastating HIV-Aids epidemic. The private medical institution is being set up by South Korean investors.

University World News can reveal that plans are at an advanced state to set up the school, which will be called the Swaziland Christian Medical University. The authorities expect its construction to take about three years.

Swaziland, with a population estimated to be a little over one million people, relies heavily on expatriate doctors. Currently, Swazis who want to train as medical doctors go to other countries within the region, such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, or further abroad.

There are a little over 175 doctors working in the tiny landlocked Southern African country, and officials say this is not enough to cope with a double HIV and tuberculosis epidemic.

Expectations are that the private medical school will be improve the capacity of the health sector to provide quality health care.

Dr Steven Shongwe, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, is upbeat at the prospect of his country being able to train its own medical doctors.

"We need a medical school very urgently," he told University World News in an interview, adding that training doctors at home would be "much cheaper" than sending medical students abroad for training.

"If we have professors of medicine, the quality of health care in our hospitals would improve."

Shongwe said TB was a big problem and Swaziland's health system was overwhelmed.

"About 80% of all our TB patients are HIV positive so we encourage screening of HIV positive people for TB and those with TB are screened for HIV so that such people can get treatment as early as possible."

Swaziland was one of the countries facing multi-drug resistant strains of the disease, said Shongwe. "We can't reach every corner of the country and some people come to the health sector when it is far too late. Hence people who shouldn't be dying are dying because of late initiation to treatment."

"I think we need about 300 doctors. We have more than 2,000 nurses but need double that figure." The national University of Swaziland trains nurses.

Experts have advised that for the envisaged medical school to be viable, the government has to be involved in its establishment. To that end the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health are now part of the planning process. This will ensure that the curriculum gets local endorsement and acceptance.

The government has set aside land and a representative of King Mswati III, Swaziland's reigning absolute monarch, officiated at a groundbreaking ceremony for the medical school recently.

University World News has it on good authority that Malaysian investors are also planning to establish a university of science and technology in Mbabane, the country's capital.