Namibia’s Very Own Doctors

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK In a move intended to alleviate an acute shortage of medical personnel, the Ministry of Health and Social Services yesterday introduced a team of local trainee doctors. Commissioning 11 Namibian interns into the profession alongside 10 others from South Africa and Zimbabwe, Health Minister Richard Kamwi said that this was a commendable achievement, as the pubic health service industry mainly depended on foreign doctors from South Africa and Cuba. In view of this Kamwi stressed upon the need for Namibia to have its own medical practitioners. “My dream is for the Namibian medical professionals to own the public health sector,” he said as he welcomed medical graduates who completed six years of study abroad last year. The majority of the young medical interns completed most of their tertiary studies at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, while others went for similar medical studies in Russia. Now as part of their studies they will be spending the whole of this year doing their internship at the Windhoek State Hospital and at Katutura State Hospital. For the first time the ministry has successfully managed to introduce its own doctors, with a further 18 more still to arrive during the latter part of this year. Furthermore, between 2000 and 2005 the Ministry of Health also sent 14 Namibian doctors for specialised studies. To Kamwi, this is a welcome achievement, since one of the longstanding challenges facing the health sector in the country has been the constant shortage of professionals. A shortage of qualified Science and Mathematics teachers in the education system is one of the main contributing factors to this trend. This further results in a small number of schools offering these much needed subjects at Higher International Certificate of Secondary Education (HIGCSE) level, leading to fewer students enrolling in medical courses at tertiary level. “Intakes for medical students until around the year 2002 have therefore been around four percent a year. Ten years ago, in 1996, there were only 26 students in total who were studying medicine,” said the minister. However, over the years the situation improved with the establishment of a pre-medical/pre-pharmacy programme at the University of Namibia, where 46 students have completed their two-year programme since it started four years ago. At the same time between 1998 and 2005 a total number of 472 students have been assisted through the Government Students Financial Assistance Fund. In light of this, Kamwi urged the private sector to join in sponsoring more medical students and other health professionals to pursue their tertiary education. On their part the medical interns were looking forward to their one-year internship at the two state hospitals in Windhoek. “We are already learning a lot and it’s very challenging,” said Maria Kamkuemah, who completed her studies at UCT in South Africa. Yet the only worrying factor for most of the interns was how they struggled to make ends meet, since the loan of over N$33 000 was not enough to cover all living expenses. “It’s a struggle financially to cope and the burden now is how to pay back the loan, which is a daunting task,” said Kamkuemah. Echoing the sentiment Dr Thandiwe Simenda, who also studied at UCT, said tuition fees of N$40 000 per year and a yearly escalation of 10 percent is a challenge. Most young medical graduates prefer to go into the private health sector, since they would earn enough money to pay back the loan they owe Government. Suggestions have been made to rather convert these loans into bursaries.