Expansion of medical degrees starts to bear fruit

Mauritania has produced its first medical graduates trained within the country rather than abroad. Medical higher education has been expanded and new facilities built in the impoverished northwest African country that is largely desert.

Mauritania has very few doctors. According to 2015 World Health Organisation statistics, its 3.89 million people are served by just 0.12 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants.

Not being able to train Mauritanian doctors within the country has been a key problem.

Looking at all health professionals, the country’s 17 hospitals are staffed by about 10,000 doctors and nurses and many of them are of different nationalities – from Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal and France – alongside Mauritanian doctors who studied abroad.

The Mauritanian government expanded higher education to include medical doctors, in order to end its total reliance on study abroad for medical students – most went for training to Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco or Algeria – and on hiring expensive expat medical professionals.

The policy is now bearing fruit.

New medical school

Last June 14 doctors, including two females, graduated from the University of Science, Technology and Medicine, in the country’s capital Nouakchott.

The new premises were inaugurated by the country’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Independence Day – 28 November – in 2013. This was one year after a government decree created the university out of some departments that were previously part of the University of Nouakchott, which has operated since 1981.

The first doctors completed a comprehensive, eight-year theoretical and practical training programme. Their studies began when the medical faculty was still part of the University of Nouakchott.

Currently there are 857 students in the medical faculty, under the supervision of professors and doctors from Mauritania, Senegal and Algeria.

The faculty is housed in a two-storey complex spread over three wings that are built to international architectural standards and include dozens of laboratories, lecture halls, classrooms and other offices.

The new complex cost US$38 million, according to government officials in Nouakchott. The medical faculty’s goal is to enable the new university to deliver quality training to help meet Mauritania’s long term health care requirements.

Medical faculty dean, Professor Sid'Ahmed Ould Mogueya, told University World News that the launch of the medical university and its facilities had created “much satisfaction”.

“It is a young faculty that will produce good professionals. This newly created infrastructure is going to improve the health sector in the country and these efforts will be rewarded in times to come.”

Need for doctors

Sidi Weld Salem, Mauritania’s minister of education and scientific research, said at the graduation ceremony that establishing the medical faculty was a necessity and a response to “the medical and educational state of affairs in a country that suffers from a lack of staff in hospitals because of the burden of sending medical students to follow scholarships abroad”.

Ahmed Kane, a specialist in paediatric surgery and assistant head of the medical faculty’s clinic, underlined that importing medical expertise was expensive for a country whose gross domestic product per capita in 2014 was just US$1,275, according to World Bank figures.

In comments published in Mauritanian newspapers, he said the government had to pay dearly to recruit foreign doctors to fill health care gaps, with many professionals recently being hired from Tunisia.

“There are 37 specialist nurses (in anaesthesia and radiology) who are paid €1,250 [US$1,400] per month and one intensive care physician who is assigned to the emergency department of the national hospital – he earns €3,000 [US$3,400] per month,” noted Kane.

There is certainly demand for doctors in Mauritania. The health ministry cited a recent spate of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and serious lung infections, especially in the country’s southern and eastern governorates.