Zimbabwe’s institutions of higher learning are struggling to absorb an overflowing number of applicants aspiring to study medicine and other health-related courses, with only one percent of candidates being successful.
This emerged during a high-level policy dialogue held in Bulawayo on Monday.
The two-day indaba which ended yesterday provided a health labour market analysis (HLMA) while identifying priority health workforce investment opportunities, and building consensus on strategic priorities and investment options to help inform a national health workforce strategy and investment plan.
The findings of the HLMA are expected to inform policymakers on the strategies that need to be adopted in the health sector.
The study revealed that there is a high demand for people intending to venture into health and medical-related fields while only a fraction of those aspiring to study secure places in universities.
Some of the institutions that offer medicine in the country include the University of Zimbabwe, the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Midlands State University (MSU), and Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) among others.
Findings from the HLMA established that an average of 89 applicants compete for one vacancy to enroll as doctors countrywide.
“With 397 185 applicants for admission in the 2021 academic year, only 4 134 of the prospective health professions’ students were offered places, which translates to one percent of the applicants who got places to train,” reads part of the findings.
According to the HLMA findings, there is a sharp decline in the number of health workers who left the country last year compared to 2021.
“Migration of health workers from Zimbabwe has been a longstanding phenomenon. In December 2021, the overall attrition rate in the public health sector stood at 8 percent. This has gone down to 3,8 percent by the end of 2022,” reads the report.
The report further showed that at least 41 percent of health workers are planning to leave the country.
“Among 2 687 health workers surveyed, 41 percent had intentions to migrate abroad, of which, 53 percent had started working on their plans to migrate. Of those with intentions to migrate, 3,8 percent are planning to leave within the next six months,” read the report.
“Another 7,2 percent have plans of migrating within a year while 74,5 percent intended to migrate to work and 21,4 percent for further studies.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Health Services Commission (HSC) human resources general manager, Ms Nona Zhou said the HLMA findings are critical as they provide up-to-date information on developments in the health sector.
“This research is critical in the sense that it is scientific research. It will make a difference in the sense that we will be approaching Treasury or partners to say this is what is required. The World Health Organisation (WHO) provided us with tools that we used to calculate, looking at the number of nurses and doctors we will need say by 2030,” she said.
“From the available data, we can now tell that the Government at this point in time can afford this much unlike in the past because there is information from this study.”
Ms Nona said the research findings also outline areas of cooperation between the Government and development partners.
She said there is a need to cover the gaps that exist in the training of health workers and urged the private sector to come on board.
Ms Nona commended health workers for their dedication to duty, saying Zimbabwe has the highest productivity and performance rate in the African continent at 75 percent.
Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education (Zimche) chief director for life and health sciences Professor Felicity Gumbo said the HLMA results should be aligned with the training of those in the health sector.
“The training of people in the health sector feeds into the training for the country so that the Ministry of Health and Child Care maps out the skills that are required while the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development fulfills those needs,” she said.
Prof Gumbo said the HLMA research confirms that more needs to be done to train specialists in the health sector as there is a 95 percent gap.
“The evidence is clear that we still have not made huge strides in addressing the skills deficit in the medicine and health sciences. The second recommendation is that we might need to expand our training,” she said.
“The number of places for students to train in medicine is quite limited. As a result, even those who would have really passed with flying colours are failing to make it.”
Prof Gumbo said there is also a need to retain lecturers as some of them are leaving the country resulting in a brain drain in the health sector.
She said the brain drain is also affecting the expansion of education in the medical field.
“The country also needs to invest more in modern equipment in hospitals as this is necessary in producing quality health personnel,” said Prof Gumbo.- state media