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Improve working conditions for medical practitioners

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BASOTHO students studying medicine at foreign universities have for the first time revealed why they do not want to return home to take up jobs at government hospitals.

Yet the government every year sends 30 students to study medicine abroad because our country does not have a medical school.

The government spends thousands of taxpayers’ money on these students in the hope that once they graduate they would come back home to prop up the country’s ailing healthcare sector.

But very few have bothered to return home.

The Lesotho Medical Students Association (Lemsa) says only an average of five graduates return to work here every year.

The reasons for their reluctance are not surprising even though it’s critical that the medical students have at last spoken out.

It’s the same old story and we have written about it endlessly.

The student doctors say they simply find it illogical to return home to earn M7 000 a month when their equals in South Africa — where the majority of Basotho medical students study — get at least M16 000.

The salaries that Lesotho pays its healthcare personnel are embarrassing when compared to what other countries in the region offer.

But the medical practitioners’ concerns go beyond measly salaries.

Their working conditions are pathetic to say the least.

The ominous state of our healthcare sector has been a cause for serious concern for years.

Doctors are forced to work long shifts because our hospitals simply don’t have enough of them.

Nurses struggle to cope with the multitudes that have nowhere else to seek health services.

We cannot expect committed and diligent service from them when their conditions of service are so pathetic.

Critical drugs are not always available.

Essential diagnostic machines are either outmoded or simply unavailable.

Blood reserves are always at critical levels.

Basic things such as surgical gloves are always in short supply.

Some patients in our state hospital sleep on the floor.

“Right now the hospital is not in a good state,” Lemsa president Mosoeu Mongangane told the Sunday Express in reference to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the country’s only referral hospital.

“There is a shortage of things as basic as oxygen. We cannot learn or help people in such a desperate situation.”

This is scandalous for a country like Lesotho where one in every four people has HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

Needless to say, the majority of the country’s 1.8 million people live below the United Nations poverty datum line of US$2 a day.

That means only a lucky few can afford to cross the border to seek better medical services in South Africa.

It is the duty of every responsible government to ensure that the country’s healthcare system is in order.

Bringing in foreign doctors to hold fort at our hospitals can at best be described as a stop-gap measure.

And, by the way, foreign doctors too cannot put up with the miserable salaries and poor working conditions in Lesotho.

As soon as they get an opportunity they don’t hesitate to leave — and they have been doing that in droves.

The long-term answer to our crisis lies in training our own doctors.

But as the Lemsa members have said they will only be happy to return home if the conditions improve.

The medical students are not making ridiculous demands.

Unless the government takes their concerns seriously, Lesotho will continue sending doctors to school for other countries.

And the people will have to do with inadequate doctors.

We hope the government takes the medical students’ concerns seriously because we believe those are national concerns.

Access to healthcare should not become a scarce privilege.

It is a basic human right.

Getting it right should not be hard for a government that wants to be taken seriously.

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