Russian-trained doctors 'insulted'

Graduates of Russian medical schools take exception at insinuations that their qualifications are substandard.

22 February 2019 | Health

An association of Russian-trained Namibian doctors have issued a scathing statement in response to criticism of the quality of medical training obtained at Eastern European and Chinese universities, and warned of a potential blow to bilateral alliances.

The Russian Alumni Association of Namibia (RAAN) yesterday fired back at an affidavit submitted to the Windhoek High Court by Cornelius Weyulu, the registrar of the Health Professions Councils of Namibia (HPCNA).

In an affidavit filed in February in connection with an urgent application brought by foreign-trained medical graduates who had failed a compulsory pre-internship evaluation last year, Weyulu bluntly criticised the low admission requirements at Eastern European and Chinese medical universities. Weyulu said many graduates returning from those countries lacked the requisite skills and knowledge, which led to the implementation of a pre-evaluation test to ensure their competence before allowing them to practise. RAAN described Weyulu's affidavit as defamatory, misleading and an “unwarranted attack on our knowledge and integrity”.

RAAN described Weyulu's affidavit as “insensitive and ignorant” and warned that Weyulu's affidavit could damage the “cordial bilateral relations and agreements that exist between Namibia, Russia, the former Soviet Republics and China”.

They demanded that he retract the comments contained in the affidavit and unconditionally apologise to RAAN members. RAAN asked why, if the quality of training at foreign institutions was regarded as substandard, the health ministry was not advised against sending students there on taxpayer-funded scholarships.

Further, the association insisted that Weyulu provide proof that Unam medical graduates had taken the same evaluation test.



Doing well

The group claimed that requiring only foreign-trained graduates, and not Unam graduates, to take the pre-internship test was “blatantly unfair”.

RAAN emphasised that Russian-trained Namibian professionals, including doctors, had been deployed to a number of Namibian institutions, including private and state hospitals and universities. The group listed senior medical personnel working at state hospitals, including health minister Kalumbi Shangula, who had attained their degrees in Russia. Russian-trained doctors were heading the casualty departments at Katutura State Hospital and Oshakati Intermediate Hospital, and were medical superintendents at the Rundu, Oshakati and Keetmanshoop state hospitals, the statement pointed out.



Damning

Since 2013, more than 600 Namibian students were granted scholarships to study medicine or dentistry abroad as part of a health ministry programme. Countries included Russia, Ukraine, Zambia, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Ghana. In 2016, the Medical and Dental Council of Namibia implemented pre-internship evaluations after concerns were raised about the skills and knowledge of returning graduates from particularly Eastern European and Chinese institutions, Weyulu's affidavit stated. In the affidavit, Weyulu pointed out that the minimum admission requirements of the Unam medical school were at least 35 points in grade 12 - ten more points than the entrance requirements for other Unam degrees - plus a B grade or higher in mathematics and English. He said South Africa had similar admission requirements but schools in Eastern Europe and China “do not seem to have the same requirements”. A recent study of more than 200 foreign-trained medical students found that 99% had failed to qualify for admission to Unam's medical school, based on their grade 12 results, Weyulu said. He added that many foreign-trained graduates from especially China and Eastern Europe were “poorly trained” and were “found wanting as interns in many a respect”. Weyulu added that this “poor” training weakened their ability to do “serious ward work”. “Most of them cannot. They are not qualified,” he said.

He said this burdened students from “decent universities”, who have to do “double the work to cater for the gap created by the incompetence of the European and Chinese-trained students”. He said the pre-internship evaluations were established to ensure that the “correct graduates are released into the medical field” and to “evaluate the competence of people to get into and remain in the medical profession”.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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