By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

LERIBE- Last week Friday marked the official opening of the first of its kind Academic Centre for Postgraduate Medical Training in Hlotse, Leribe.

This facility will offer specialised educational programmes and courses for medical professionals who have completed their basic medical training at the institutions of higher learning.  It is also set to bolster the health sector in the country.

It will offer Family Medicine postgraduate training program.

The facility is an investment supported by Boston University with grant support from USAID to Lesotho Boston Health Alliance (LeBoHA) through the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program.

This partnership is reported to date as far back as 2004 with the vision of improving a “Basotho Driven Health Care System that meets the needs of Basotho, and those residing in the Mountain Kingdom”.

LeBoHa’s President Prof Brian Jack said when they started back in 2004, there were 130 doctors and only about 30 were Basotho and almost all were in Maseru.

He said the ratio of 1 doctor for more than 20 000 patients was off the scale even in Southern Africa.

The country he said engages in huge costs as it does not have a medical school and pays for about 10 students annually to study in this field from other countries.

“And they hardly ever returned. In those days, I spoke a lot to the young doctors who attended med school in RSA (Republic of South Africa) and elsewhere about why they did not come back home; they told us [that they] are send to the mountains all by their selves; no collegiality or support; no opportunities for teaching or research; no professional development or continuing medical education; poorly functioning hospitals; overwhelming clinical responsibility that they were not prepared for.”

They also told him that they are lowly paid.

The President added: “But we also learned that there were idealistic young doctors who wanted to come home to take care of their people and communities, and to serve the nation in its time of need.   If there was something to come home to!

“We are very proud to report that with the most recent reaccreditation, the LeBoHA FMSTP was accredited to confer the Masters of Medicine in Family Medicine degree, the certification for specialty physicians in the region.”

He said there are now specialist Family Physicians trained in the country in seven of the 10 districts. He emphasised: “These are Basotho doctors who speak the language, know the cultures and are dedicated to caring for their people, and serving their communities and the nation.”

 The President pointed out that now Lesotho offers specialty training available in and graduates are now prepared for the broad scope of services that they see in the district and there is also the continuance of Medical Education available in the country.

He commended the teamwork and collegiality in the districts as healthcare teams develop saying it allows for Continuous Quality Improvement and Better Functioning Hospitals.

Prof Jack also underscored a career track for professional advancement, and an opportunity for Teaching and Research and that now graduates are promoted to Consultant level and are paid as consultants.

“We are involved with the technical work group planning the re-initiation of the Medical School. There is now significant momentum for this to happen.  There are plenty of talented people, and like the postgraduate program, we are planning a high quality medical school – that can be afforded by the country. It can be done -and the time is now,” he said.

The country has for a long time failed to mount the Medical School. This dream dates back from many years but has not seen the light of the day.

Among the four issues which have been prioritized by the Ministry of Health, the Minister Hon Selibe Mochoboroane said is the establishment of the medical school. This he told the parliament earlier this year when tabling their financial estimates for this financial year while also asking the august house to approve their budget.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) Director-General Dr ‘Nyane Letsie praised this program noting that now many Basotho doctors can be found working in rural communities unlike in the past.

She said these local doctors also train village health workers and commended them for how they have tirelessly worked during the height of COVID-19 pandemic to even reach far flung areas.

“This program for us a nation, it has brought not only hope, but courage for our friends elsewhere including Basotho doctors that have left some years ago,” she said.

The Director-General said epidemiology, family medicine and family health are what Lesotho needs the most.

“We need to train for our nation, we need to train to manage what is existing on the ground, not what is perceived to be existing.  Our priority is strengthening primary health care, so we need human resources that can make us reach that goal.

“So this program is the one that had made our health professionals to manage health services at every level of service delivery,” Dr Letsie said.

Giving remarks at the opening ceremony, United States (US) Ambassador to Lesotho Maria Brewer said the official opening of this center symbolises their shared commitment to the health well-being of the people of Lesotho.

“The Academic Centre for Postgraduate Medical Training will serve as a beacon of hope, a repository of knowledge, and a hub of innovation within the healthcare sector.  It will nurture the next generation of healthcare professionals by giving them the skills to address healthcare challenges.  I’m confident it will also provide a cost-effective alternative to sending students to other countries.

“The United States remains Lesotho’s most steadfast partner.  We are proud of the role we have played, alongside the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and LeBoHA,” she said. 

The Ambassador said the US support builds upon the historic and ongoing commitments to the country and they have over the past 25 years invested more than 950 million US dollars, about M18, 3 billion.

LeBoHA Executive Director Elizabeth Nkholongo described the occasion as “special “.

“We are here to mark the opening of the LeBoHA Academic Center. As you know LeBoHA is A Multifaceted Health System-Strengthening organization that is both the Health Implementing Partner to the Ministry of Health and Higher Education Institution,” she said.

Nkholongo commended LeBoHA’s President for his “dedication and commitment to improving medical education in Lesotho”.

She said this medical specialty training and it is intended to support the country’s response to the human resources for health shortages, reverse the brain drain, and improve doctor-patient ratios to ultimately build a resilient and sustainable health sector.

The Executive Director noted that Lesotho has produced 12 locally trained Family Medicine Specialists, 16 are currently undergoing the Family Medicine training.

“LeBoHA/MOH intends to expand into its Health Professions Education to respond to the overall health demands inclusive of strengthening of district hospitals and primary health care services, which are crucial in pre-service clinical training programmes.

“In achieving this, LeBoHA plans to submit for accreditation to the CHE additional Postgraduate Programmes in other specialties such as Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, General Surgery and Psychiatry once the institutional audit is complete. These intended Postgraduate Programmes will be hosted at LeBoHA’s Academic Centre.”