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Phamotse tears into medical school


…as Education and Training Minister announces plans to reestablish Lesotho School of Medicine with the assistance of Zimbabwe

Pascalinah Kabi

Education and Training Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse says the Lesotho School of Medicine (LSoM) should never have been allowed to enroll students as it did not meet the basic standards of a higher learning institution.

Dr Phamotse made the remark during a media briefing held on Friday in Maseru where she was announcing government’s plan to reestablish the LSoM with the assistance of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).

LSoM was established in 2014 to train doctors and alleviate their dire shortage in the country. However, the institute, which started operating at the National Health Training Centre in Maseru on 1 September 2014, was bedeviled by a myriad of problems from the onset, which included lack of funding and failure to attract relevant teaching staff.

The college’s fate was sealed after the Quality Assurance Committee of the Lesotho Council on Higher Education (CHE) recommended last year that the institution should not be accredited because it did not have the capacity to train doctors. After the recommendation, LSoM stopped enrolling its second intake which was supposed to start classes in September 2015.

However, the future of 31 students enrolled in the first intake had remained uncertain until the government inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Zambian government this past week.  Under the agreement, Copperbelt University School of Medicine officials are expected to visit Lesotho this week to assess the students and determine the levels at which they would be enrolled.

Flanked by Health Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane and Development Planning Minister Mokoto Hloaele at Friday’s media briefing, Dr Phamotse reiterated government’s commitment to have its own medical school, while warning against rushing to establish the institution.

“A milestone that I want to share with the nation is that we have agreed with the University of Zimbabwe to help the country in its big task to establish the Lesotho School of Medicine,” the minister said.

“Under the big task, which will require proper planning and sober minds, the UZ will train 12 doctors who should be ready to teach at the LSoM once it’s up and running.”

The minister, who was in Zimbabwe on Wednesday to seal the deal, explained the 12 post-graduate students would enroll with the UZ in January 2017 in the department of Surgery, Pediatrics and Community Medicine.

“It must be clear to every Mosotho that this initiative is part of my ministry’s efforts to protect the quality of our students’ education, especially in producing world-class medical doctors who will save the lives of their fellow Basotho,” said Dr Phamotse.

“It must also be clear that government has a vested interest in seeing Lesotho establish its own medical school within a short space of time.”

As part of a roadmap to reestablish the institute, Dr Phamotse said the ministry would collaborate with the ministries of Health, Finance and Development Planning.

Asked if this development meant the end of the medical school, Dr Phamotse said the LSoM should have never been allowed to enroll students in the first place as it did not meet the basic standards of a higher learning institution.

“The government took a decision to establish the school but the question is, did we ever establish the school? The answer is the Lesotho government never established a medical school,” she said.

“Processes that need to be followed when establishing and registering schools with the Ministry of Education and Training were never followed.”

Dr Phamotse said it was for this reason that the ministry complied with CHE’s recommendation that LSoM should stop further enrolments.

“The main reason for this decision was the school did not have proper management, lacked qualified lecturers and didn’t have learning equipment,” she said.

“You will remember that there are schools that have been shut down before because of failure to follow the right procedures and LSoM is one of those schools.”

The minister said Lesotho had even reneged on the agreement it signed with Zimbabwe on the training of students and establishment of LSoM.

“Under the agreement, Zimbabwe said we must send 20 students for three to four years but we continued to send more than that number,” she said.

“It was also agreed that Zimbabwe would help us establish LSoM and the training of its lecturers, but we never allowed them to do so. Establishing a medical school is not child’s play.”

The minister also revealed that the government would review its agreement with the Zimbabwean authorities since it was signed by the wrong ministry.

“We already have an agreement with Zimbabwe, but we are reviewing it since it was absurd that it was signed by Lesotho’s Ministry of Health and Zimbabwe’s Education Ministry,” Dr Phamotse said.

“The agreement was supposed to be signed by the Education and Training Ministry as the law requires.”

Dr Phamotse noted while work on reestablishing LSoM continued, Basotho students would be enrolled at the Copperbelt University School of Medicine and UZ.

“The 31 Zambia-bound students will leave the country in the coming weeks,” she said.

“Twenty-one third-year and 35 fourth-year students, who had already started their studies with the UZ under the previous agreement between the two countries, will resume their studies in Zimbabwe on 30 April 2016.

“We have also agreed that the fifth-year students will also finish their studies in Zimbabwe and are expected to start classes on 7 May 2016.”

In his remarks, Health Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane said there were Basotho medical experts in South Africa who were ready to lecture at the LSoM as soon as it has been reestablished.

“Since 2000, Lesotho has trained over 500 doctors who are now practicing in South Africa, and they are ready to come and lecture at the school of medicine once it is opened,” he said.

“This means we will not have to wait for the 12 doctors going for post-graduate studies in Zimbabwe before we open the school,” Dr Monyamane said.

On his part, Development Planning Minister Mokoto Hloaele urged the 96 medical students to approach the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) for contract review.

“During our close sessions with the students, we asked each individual to go to NMDS and sort out their contracts as each individual’s case might be different even though they are studying the same course,” Mr Hloaele said.

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