Having returned to the UK after six months in Lesotho on a programme funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), I’ve been given a graduate lesson in the obstacles and opportunities facing health in this corner of Southern Africa.
Lesotho’s sole health teaching facility is the National Health Training College (NHTC), which produces a number of highly skilled nurses but lacks a training facility for aspiring medics. Currently, Basotho medical students usually undertake their clinical training in South Africa where they are nurtured by the academic excellence of the University of Cape Town and treated to a quality of life unobtainable in the ‘Mountain Kingdom’. This creates a painful brain-drain as the struggling country’s hope and talent are often irreversibly lost. Such medics take with them an innate understanding of the real challenges facing health in Lesotho; they can naturally empathise with the Basotho people and recognise their needs in a way which foreign aid workers cannot.
Although administered by Tsepong, a South Africa provider of health care, the newly built and fresh faced Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital is well prepared to confront the key issues which drag the average life expectancy down to 42 years, almost half that of the UK. With the third highest HIV infection rate in the world and an average of 62 people contract HIV and 50 people die from AIDS each and every single day, the facility is geared towards HIV treatment, improving maternal health and reducing infant mortality rates. Furthermore, the new hospital has the potential to become a centre of academic excellence and raise a generation of home grown doctors in what could become the most effective act of capacity building seen in the country to date.
Whilst in Maseru district’s new infirmary I was fortunate enough to observe a skin graft which was carried out with exceptional facilities and a talented multi-disciplinary team. However, I’ve seen with my own eyes the dependency on foreign manpower as the procedure was led by a Bangladeshi surgeon and a Russian anaesthetist.
From Lesotho I’ve learnt that the next stage in Lesotho’s development is a focus on rearing its own medical minds which should be considered an essential next step in the country’s path of self-sustaining growth.