By Alan Straton, 8 September 2017, mype.co.za.
The current training output of medical schools across South Africa is between 1200 and 1300 doctors a year, while the rollout of improved national healthcare and National Health Insurance requires more than double this number.
Aggravating this is the fact that about 75% of the country’s doctors are in the private sector, with the remainder servicing public hospitals and thus presenting a ratio of about 3.7 doctors per 10 000 people.
The Eastern Cape, as one of the country’s poorest provinces, is highly challenged in this regard. The province has a population of about 6.56-million people, about 100 doctors and a few specialists currently produced by the Walter Sisulu University’s medical school.
While some inroads have been made in addressing shortcomings around health provision and access thereto, a lot still needs to be done towards ensuring adequate health care to meet provincial needs. This includes the provision of adequately trained health care professionals and improved access to primary health services.
In a concerted effort to address these challenges, the Eastern Cape Department of Health is collaborating with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Fort Hare and Rhodes universities’ Health Sciences faculties in a multilateral agreement that effectively pools together resources and expertise to improve the state of health services in the province.
The multilateral agreement was signed at Nelson Mandela University on Friday (8 September), with representatives from the four universities and provincial health department – some of whom make up the Multilateral Agreement Committee – in attendance.
Speaking at the signing, MEC for Health Dr Pumza Dyantyi said while there had previously been bilateral agreements between universities running parallel to each other, there was a need to consolidate these to create the best way forward.
“We have been stressing the importance of collaboration. We know that there are minimal resources among all of us, so we need to share,” she said.
“It is great to see the four provincial universities collaborate with the [provincial] Department of Health, which will pave the way for the best health service package for the Eastern Cape. This follows on from bilaterals, which have been running parallel in achieving the mandate. The best way, however, is to consolidate these to create the best way forward.”
Nelson Mandela University’s Executive Dean of Health Sciences, Prof Lungile Pepeta, said this agreement bodes very well with the University’s plans around the establishment of the country’s 10th medical school, which are essentially to align it with provincial and national health imperatives, and deliver integrated and transformative health professionals education.
“We are very excited about this. The multilateral agreement is a critical agreement for us to work together, sharing health expertise and resources, to improve the state of health services in the province,” he said.
“The four universities all have Health Sciences faculties and research facilities that can continue to add to the province’s health landscape. Walter Sisulu University has a medical school, which we are working towards, and we have been in liaison with them about possible partnerships, and this agreement officiates these discussions.”
The University’s planned medical school – the second in the province – aims to, once accredited, offer a full undergraduate medical degree (MBChB) by 2020 and further evolve to include medical specialist training immediately thereafter.
“Our approach to Health Sciences as the faculty is to work within our communities, training our students to do their practical work in clinics both in various areas across the city as well as rural areas, where proper access to health remains a problem. That is the holistic approach we are taking as a means to address specific health needs,” Prof Pepeta said.
The decision to establish a medical school at Mandela University got the Council nod in 2010 as a response to national and provincial needs. Port Elizabeth is home to two large public hospitals – Livingstone and Dora Nginza – that serve various areas of the Eastern Cape, which will be used, among other platforms, as training ground for students across the numerous professions on offer.
Mandela University’s Health Science Faculty currently offers numerous programmes that act as a firm base from which to develop a medical school. These include nursing sciences, dietetics, emergency medical care, sports science, biomedical technology, enviromantal health, psychology and social work.