Lesotho’s first ever School of Medicine (LSoM), established in 2014 to train doctors and alleviate their dire shortage in the country, faces collapse over an escalating funding crisis and a new recommendation that it should not be officially accredited to pursue its mandate.
So bad is the situation at the LSoM that the institution, which opened with an intake of 40 doctors on 1 September 2014, has now been stopped from enrolling its second intake of first-year trainee doctors, who should have started learning in September 2015.
Even though Health Minister Dr Molotsi Monyamane vowed this week that the government would do everything in its power to keep the school open, the Lesotho Times has since established that a Quality Assurance Committee of the Lesotho Council of Higher Education (CHE) has recommended that the LSoM should not be accredited to train doctors because it is ill-equipped to achieve that purpose.
If the CHE adopts its committee’s recommendation, it means the LSoM cannot proceed as a going concern.
The LSOM, which is owned by the government, started operating at the National Health Training Centre in Maseru on 1 September 2014 but was saddled with crippling problems from the very onset.
These included lack of funding, teaching staff, and inadequate infrastructure and facilities for training doctors. The CHE quality assurance committee has now concluded that all these severe shortcomings seriously compromise training standards and recommended that the LSoM shouldn’t be accredited.
The Lesotho Times has since learnt that CHE has endorsed the committee’s recommendation, leaving the college’s future uncertain.
The Lesotho Times has also established that due to these concerns, CHE stopped the college from admitting its second batch of first-year students in August this year, a development confirmed by the founding dean of the medical school, Dr ‘Musi Mokete.
Dr Mokete has since made an impassioned plea for the government to raise the funds necessary to save the school and keep it open due to its strategic importance in the country.
Dr Mokete said in an interview that Lesotho was in dire need of “a fully functional medical school” due to the health challenges the country faces, among them a high prevalence of HIV, Tuberculosis, and Infant and Maternal Mortality. The need for government support to the LSoM could thus not be over-emphasized.
“As a country, our doctor-to-patient ration is 1:20 000 and this means if we were to have an epidemic, many Basotho would die.
“These health challenges we are faced with are a crisis that the medical school would mitigate if it gets the resources to discharge its mandate,” he said.
“However, we were shocked to learn that CHE had ordered us to stop taking new students until they have accredited the college.”
Dr Mokete stressed the need for the government to make a financial commitment to the school and also ensure ongoing talks for a merger with the National University of Lesotho (NUL) succeed.
The merger, he said, would solve many of the challenges the school is facing such as lack of resources.
On his part, Health Minister D Monyamane said government would not allow the medical school to shut down.
“We cannot chase away students while negotiations for a merger with NUL are in progress. What stakeholders should also be aware of is that the government, through the Ministry of Health, has now budgeted funds for the school. The money is expected to come in the next financial year and that budget would go a long way towards ensuring that the school does not have any more challenges,” said Dr Monyamane.
The minister emphasised that the medical school was an initiative of the government which would not be allowed to collapse.
“This initiative should be linked to an institution of higher learning as opposed to falling under the Ministry of Health as is the case now, for it to conform to higher learning institutions standards.
“We came up with the medical school due to the dire need for health professionals in this country. The medical school is a priority for us as we need diverse skills in our hospitals.
“I need to mention that we already have doctors who are doing a sterling job in different hospitals but our general population needs Basotho doctors who would easily interact with patients like our grandmothers in our communities. This is why the medical school needs the assistance of the NUL,” said Dr Monyamane.
“It is not in the best interest of the government for the school to be closed; we should be mindful that the medical school is about access to education and access to healthcare.
“We need more doctors, so for us to get them, we need this school to function properly under the laws of this country.
“We have been advised by the Council of Higher Education that the school needs to be functioning under an already established institution to guarantee that it conforms to the laws that established CHE in 2004, hence the ongoing negotiations with the NUL.
“We want to see this medical school increase the number of specialist doctors in our hospitals so that we can reduce the burden on Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
“We want to see the school curriculum include courses for community health extension officers who would be professionally trained and easily accessible to communities.
“The government of Lesotho is dedicated to supporting the medical school as it needs to have its own institution that trains doctors.”
Dr Monyamane also said whatever challenges the college might be facing are “teething problems” it would overcome with time.
Contacted for comment on the issue, CHE Chief Executive Officer, ‘Makotelo Motseko said it would be unethical to release the results of the accreditation before the process has been finalised with all stakeholders