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Patriotism alone cannot lure doctors back home

MEDICAL students who are studying at foreign universities have vowed not to work in Lesotho unless the government drastically improves salaries and working conditions for doctors.
The threat, which was made at a conference organised by the Lesotho Medical Students Association (LEMSA) on Friday, is useful in so far as it gives an indication of what needs to be done to fix a national shame.
Lesotho, which does not have a medical school of its own, has for decades relied on “poaching” doctors from neighbouring countries.
The few whom we train in South Africa and abroad have elected to stay away from home because the pay is poor and working conditions are not attractive.
This is the reality that the government must deal with.
We need creative solutions to fix this anomaly.
If the government is to lure our own Basotho medical doctors back home it must first fix the issue of salaries and provide a conducive environment for these professionals to thrive.
Appealing to their sense of patriotism alone will not wash.
To put it crudely, doctors don’t eat patriotism.
Lesotho has one of the worst doctor-patient ratios in the world.
One doctor is expected to take care of about 2 000 patients.
This must change.
But to reverse this trend the government must offer attractive packages for doctors.
We cannot understand, let alone justify, why a medical doctor at the entry level should earn a paltry M13 000 a month, almost half what an MP gets.
What our local doctors are earning palls into insignificance when compared to what their counterparts are taking home across the border.
Junior doctors who are straight from medical school in South Africa earn about M23 000 a month.
Of course “little Lesotho” is no South Africa.
But the government must demonstrate a certain measure of seriousness in remunerating medical professionals accordingly.
The issue is not just about salaries.
It is about providing a conducive environment that allows these professionals to thrive.
When such conditions are absent you have a bunch of frustrated professionals who are seeking the first air ticket available to flee their own country.
No argument about patriotism and sacrifice will stop this flight of skills.
Until we sort out that which drives them to seek greener pastures our country will continue to hemorrhage essential skills.
Once professionals flee their own country it is often a battle to convince them to return.
The government must therefore go out of its way to retain the professionals it trains for the betterment of the nation.
This applies to engineers, pharmacists and those in the mining sector and other professions.
Unless it does so we shall continue to invest heavily in training Basotho students outside the country only for them to benefit other countries that value their services better.
The government must make Lesotho an attractive destination for Basotho with special skills.
After all it is home.
It must go on a charm offensive to woo the hundreds of thousands of Basotho professionals living in South Africa to come back home.
Lesotho cannot continue to invest heavily in the training of manpower without enjoying the fruits of its sacrifices.

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