Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Shortage Of Doctors In Zambia Now Hits 3,000


By Paul Shalala in Ndola
Patients queing at Kanyama Clinic in Lusaka

Long queues at clinics and hospitals are a normal occurrence in Zambia, a country that is plagued by various diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera and malaria.

The lack of enough man power at health facilities is part of the problem that has led to patients queuing at health facilities for long hours.

In rural areas, the situation is even worse as patients walk several kilometers from their villages to the clinic and spend more hours waiting to be attended to.

Some critically ill patients die on their way to the hospitals due to lack of proper roads and ambulances in rural areas.

And in some health facilities, there are no trained medical personnel to attend to patients.

In some areas, cleaners and office orderlies who are not trained in medicine, attend to patients and give out prescriptions.

Currently, Zambia has 1,500 doctors and has a shortage of 3,000 more.
At the University Teaching Hospital, Zambia’s largest health referral center in Lusaka, doctors are overwhelmed with work.

Some give out appointments to patients six months or a year away.

This situation has led to patients dying as they wait for their appointments.
And some doctors have also started running their own private clinics to cash in on the shortage of doctors.

According to some patients, doctors give them long appointments or encourage them to visit their private clinics where there are no queues and they can be attended to the same day.

According to the World Health Organisation, the normal doctor-patient ratio is 1 doctor per 5,000 patients but Zambia has one of the most abnormal doctor-patient ratio which now stands at 1 doctor per 12,000 patients.

At present, Zambia only has two government run institutions that train doctors plus a few private ones and their output is not enough to reduce the deficit in the coming years.

The University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University produce about 200 doctors per year and at the rate at which these medical personnel seek greener pastures abroad, the number of doctors in Zambia may not reach the required level.

To try and mitigate this problem, the Zambian government and the Jewish Council of Zambia have partnered to construct a school of medicine in the northern city of Ndola which is projected to produce doctors on an annual basis.

The School will be under the Kitwe-based Copperbelt University whose current School of Medicine is squatting at the Ndola Central Hospital were there is inadequate space for students.

The US$5 million project has already progressed and is scheduled to be completed in June 2015.

Sogecoa Zambia Limited, the Chinese construction company which is constructing the school, is scheduled to complete phase one of the project in June and hand it over to government.

Professor Kasonde Bowa
Dean of the School of Medicine at the Copperbelt University Professor Kasonde Bowa says it can take Zambia over 15 years to produce the 3,000 needed doctors if nothing is done to improve the training of doctors.

“Currently, the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University will take over a decade to offset the deficit. But with the new school of university under construction, it will only take less than 7 years to normalize the doctor-patient ratio,” said Professor Bowa.

According to the plans by the Copperbelt University, the School of Medicine will be producing 250 doctors and 50 dentists on an annual basis.

This effort, though a bit insignificant, will help beef up the numbers for medical personnel in Zambia to reduce the long queues patients have become used to when they are seeking medical attention.

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