UZ medical school exams squabble poses a fresh national health crisis

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

A FRESH crisis that could potentially worsen the country’s precarious health delivery system is looming after the authorities at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) disrupted the sequence of studies of final-year medical students who stayed away from the December examinations.

The medical students decided not to write the examinations in solidarity with striking doctors.The action by the university authorities, the largest in the country, is perceived to be punishment for the students who refused to sit for the examinations after a special university taskforce had concluded that the environment was not suitable for the students to sit for the examinations.

The University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences (UZ-CHS) has ignored the fact that final-year students need to write examinations to complete studies before being released for internship at the country’s medical institutions.

The failure to sit examinations came after the university senate, at the recommendation of the taskforce, sent the students home in November after concluding that the impasse between doctors and the government over remuneration and working conditions from September 2019 to January 2020 would not be conducive for examinations.

The College of Health Sciences, however, insisted that the examinations to ahead, but students stuck to their guns.At the time senior doctors under the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) also raised concern over the long-term implications on the quality of Zimbabwe’s health education and health service delivery, if the examinations went ahead.

The final-year students are still to write exams even though conditions have improved. To add to the confusion, students who did not finish their fourth-year studies last year are now being taught as final-year students.

The recommendation was that the students, who were left with less than three months to complete their studies, be recalled at the earliest opportunity to finalise their studies and sit examinations. Students who were specialising but could not write their examinations have also been left in limbo.

The university also kept referring the Zimbabwe Independent to various offices for comment.The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) said it is worried about the lack of communication by the CHS to the fifth-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) class of 2019, who have “been left high and dry, without any provision made for the completion of their programme”.

“The MBChB Class of 2019, in November of last year, was instructed to return home by the university senate, at the recommendation of a special university taskforce. The taskforce came to the conclusion that the environment was not suitable for students to write their final exams given the nationwide incapacitation within government hospitals,” the association said.

“The various departments within the college have begun teaching once more, making it clear that the environment is now more suitable and yet, the final-year stream continues to hang in limbo. Despite various attempts to seek clarification through the Dean’s office, there has been no communication.

This has left us with no option but to speculate that the UZ-CHS is pursuing a punitive agenda on the students who refused to be frog-marched to a questionable exam.”

The doctors said the class of 2020 has been propelled forward to take their place as the current fifth years, with the three months of teaching that they lost forfeited.

The developments pose a significant threat to the health system, given that in the next few months there will be a shortage of interns.“This perpetual uncertainty has caused unnecessary anxiety and stagnation and requires urgent review,” ZHDA said.

Doctors have also complained about the unprocedural removal of the chairperson of the department of surgery, David Muchuweti and reports of the termination of the contract of the country’s most experienced heart surgeon David Chimuka.

“In another event, we are concerned with the unprocedural replacement of Mr. D. Muchuweti as the chairperson of the Department of Surgery. Mr. Muchuweti is a seasoned academic who has always been expeditious in his defence of the ideals of this profession. His dismissal, incomplete disregard of the University ordinances, is a threat to the self-governance of the departments and the profession.”

The hospital doctors further called for the university’s quality control department and the Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Council of Zimbabwe (MDPCZ) to ensure that due procedure is followed in all programmes in the UZ-CHS.

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