Regina Graham

SOUTH Africa is going to get more doctors – and that’s official.

Fidel Hadebe, the national Health Department spokes-man, said the establishment of a programme to produce more doctors was well under way.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s minister of health, has had a number of meetings with the deans of medical schools around the country to establish plans for them to increase the numbers of doctors they produced each year.

“The point we are making here is simply that our universities cannot continue producing the same number of doctors despite the growing population and the increasing burden of disease in South Africa,” Hadebe said.

Each year, South Africa produces an estimated 1 200 doctors. That number will increase to 3 600 over the next few years if Motsoaledi’s plan to increase the student enrolment in medical schools works.

Professor Sam Mokgokong, president of the Health Professions Council of South Africa, said that, while there are 35 940 doctors currently on their register, South Africa was critically short of doctors.

To reach an ideal ratio of one doctor to every 1 000 people corrective strategies needed to be implemented.

“There is indeed a practical plan that the minister is following to respond to the specific problems,” Hadebe said.

“Bear in mind that, just as we are dealing with the numbers in terms of producing doctors, we are also dealing with issues of working conditions and infrastructure.”

In a health budget vote policy speech delivered to Parliament last month, Motsoaledi said “our aim in this case is to increase the number of medical students produced in our country at least threefold.”

The UCT medical school produces approximately 200 doctors yearly, Dr Reno Morar, acting dean of faculty at UCT, said. “The faculty of health sciences is planning to increase its numbers by 10 percent in 2012,” Morar said.

Motsoaledi has tasked the faculty with producing a plan that would show the resources required to increase student numbers, taking into account that additional resources would be needed to increase numbers, Morar said.

The UCT medical school is complying with Motsoaledi’s plans and will increase its enrolment of first-year students by accepting 20 more people to study medicine in 2012.

“It is critical the national Department of Health, together with the national Department of Education, draw up a human resource-health workforce strategy and plan to ensure that we produce enough health professionals of various categories that are fit for purpose and ready to serve the community of South Africa,” Morar said.

The Stellenbosch University medical school faculty is also complying with Motsoaledi’s plans and have admitted 218 first year students in 2011; an increase of 20 students compared to the 198 students admitted in the previous year.

Increasing the number of doctors was just one intervention to ensure that South Africa had the optimum number of health professionals. It was also critical to ensure that the health sector had the optimum skills mix to meet the health-care needs of the people of South Africa, Morar said.

“Just as it is important that we produce more doctors, it is equally important that we create a worker-friendly environment in our hospitals so that we are able to attract and retrain such a skilled health workforce,” Hadebe said.

“The intention is that, once we produce these doctors and specialists, they should remain in the country and more specifically in the public health sector.”

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