Dozens of universities have to stop their medical training

About 70 universities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have lost their licences to offer medical education after the government faulted them for a lack of qualified staff and the required equipment to be able to provide effective training in the next academic year.

The circular, dated 17 September and signed by Muhindo Nzangi Butondo, the minister of higher and university education, stated that the suspension comes after a report by the council of medical doctors highlighted universities’ failure to meet basic requirements to offer medical courses.

It proceeded to say the ministry instructs universities that are falling short to stop recruiting for the 2021-22 academic year. This means that, of the roughly 90 higher education institutions that are offering medical education, only 16 are allowed to enrol new students. Those already enrolled will be compelled to seek readmission elsewhere.

Earlier this year, problems at two medical higher education institutions, in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, also necessitated reforms to bolster the quality of training and address shortcomings.

A 2021 action plan of reforms was being introduced at the École Nationale de Santé Publique in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, following the suspension of courses by teachers in the school’s anaesthesia and intensive care unit.

The Institut National de Formation des Agents de Santé in Bouaké, Côte D’Ivoire started to overhaul its curriculum to rectify ‘manifest deficiencies’ in students’ training.

Training requirements

Medical students in the DRC spend seven years doing medical courses to get a bachelor degree in medicine and then start employment in public health facilities.

According to Professor Antoine Tshimpi, the president of the medical council in DRC, who led the probe into higher education medical training providers, the investigation found opening medical programmes were disorganised and, in most cases, lacked basic requirements to operate, something that, he said, posed a serious problem for the medical profession and people’s health in general.

“We have seen a number of establishments of medical programmes everywhere. In some institutions, a nurse offers three, four or five courses in medicine, and the veterinarian offers courses in general medicine. This is a serious issue,” said Tshimpi.

He faulted these practices and stressed that the criteria to have a medical school or a medical programme is simple. “If you want to have a medical school, you need to have a dean who is a trained medical doctor who also serves as a lecturer and such a school should possess laboratories for practice in biochemistry, physiology, anatomy,” he added.

Decision challenges

Universities and students have protested against the decision, describing it as unfair and abrupt.

They said that the medical programmes were banned in most universities without any legal framework to suspend them and to protect the employees and the students.

“It is an unfair decision. We enrolled as medical students because we knew that the university was accredited and had the permission to offer medical courses,” said one student from the Christian University of Kinshasa, a university based in Kinshasa.

At the University of Ruwenzori (UOR) in Butembo in North Kivu, the academic authorities have called for calm, assuring those who are affected by the decision that the university was working with the ministry to see how the issue can be solved.

“The UOR authorities have taken steps to engage the ministry and to see how the medical faculty can continue,” reads the announcement signed by Professor Kavira Tawitemwira Julienne, the head of academic affairs.

She said that registration for medical students was ongoing in most universities for the first year’s postgraduate courses and for PhDs.