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Why local doctors shun Lesotho

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — Low salaries and poor working conditions are the main reasons why Basotho doctors trained at government’s expense are not willing to work in Lesotho.
This was revealed on Friday during a conference organised by the Lesotho Medical Students Association (LEMSA) to find out why doctors, whose training was sponsored by the government, are not coming back to work in Lesotho.
The trainee doctors said for as long as the government offers low salaries and does not improve working conditions in public hospitals they will seek employment elsewhere.
“Salaries for Lesotho doctors have remained poor and unattractive. There is also no basic medical equipment in the country’s health centres,” said Mosoeu Mongangane, a member of LEMSA.
He said the situation is so bad that medical students are reluctant to do voluntary work in government hospitals and clinics during their long vacations.
“It is even discouraging for us to volunteer our time because of the unavailability of equipment. I once had to run around all hospital wards to look for equipment that should be within reach due to its importance,” Mongangane said.
The human resources officer in the health ministry ’Mamosa Makopela who also spoke at the conference said the ministry was aware of the doctors’ concerns.
She added that the health ministry is working hard to negotiate improved wages for doctors.
“Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng (health minister) has been advocating improved wages for doctors in cabinet. Unfortunately until cabinet gives an approval there is nothing much we can do.”
She said currently local doctors are paid M159 804 per annum as an entry level salary.
“These figures are much lower than in South Africa where newly qualified doctors are paid between R276 000 and R360 000,” said Mongangane.
Makopela said the ministry is also working to retain medical practitioners by improving the conditions of clinics and hospitals throughout the country.
“For instance, we are opening a new referral hospital next month. It will be fully equipped with world-class equipment,” she said.
Speaking at the same event the US ambassador to Lesotho Michelle Bond urged doctors to come back and work in Lesotho.
“You are needed here. There is urgent need for good medical care in Lesotho which has one of the lowest doctor-patient-ratios at one doctor for 2 000 patients,” Bond said.
“Your people need you,” she told the medical students.
“The Ministry of Health recognises the challenges you have mentioned and is working hard to address them.”
The ambassador said the US government and other partners were also working hard to improve conditions in the country’s health sector.
“You should seriously consider coming back to work in your country and serve your own people. They paid for your fees so you could study.”
“You could also do something for them. They will also feel comfortable relating their illnesses to people who can understand them well. Some things matter the most when they come from your own community,” she added.
The National Manpower Development Secretariat director, Letholetseng Ntsike, said it is disappointing that Basotho children are reluctant to serve their people.
“It is shocking that we have a shortage of doctors in Lesotho yet we send so many students to other countries to study medicine. Where are they and why are they not coming back?”
She said the government has given priority to Lesotho students who wish to study medicine despite the tough economic times.
“Last year the NMDS blocked SA scholarships due to the economic crisis. Yet we managed to find scholarships for 27 medical students. I am shocked that we still have that doctor-patient ratio when we are doing so much,” she said.
She said the NMDS has failed to collect most of the student loans because they do not come back to work in the country.
“If steps are not taken to remedy this situation, in five or 10 years we will no longer have the revolving loan. I wonder if government will cope,” she said.

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