Twenty Malawian doctors undergoing postgraduate studies in various specialities are stranded in South Africa without financial support after government terminated their scholarships without notice.
The scholarships were administered by the College of Medicine (CoM), a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), under the National Aids Commission (NAC)/Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) since 2010 with the first cohort entering various South African universities in 2010.
About 35 doctors in three cohorts of 2010, 2011 and 2012 received these scholarships with training to be conducted in Malawi, South Africa or a combination of the two depending on CoM infrastructure and capability to train.
Most of the doctors are studying obstetrics and gynaecology, radiology, radiation oncology, emergency medicine and pathology with the agreement that they would return home to practice but the doctors are no longer sure of that arrangement following the actions by the government.
In a letter to one of the doctors who opted for anonymity, the registrar of CoM, informed them individually that they would get their last stipend in July 2015 which included a plane ticket back home because the support was for four years from 2010 to 2014.
CoM, which was administering the scholarships on behalf of the government, said in a letter dated July 17 2015: “In view of the above, the college shall cease providing you with the funding support towards your training. The college has informed the Ministry of Health who is your employer of the expiry of NAC/Global Fund support and the fact that you have not completed your training. You should therefore contact your employer on the way forward.”
But the students claim that the scholarship stated that the contract period was “usually four years, but can be extended to six [years] on valid reasons”.
The doctors wrote government officials, among them the Secretary for Health Macphail Magwira, Chief Secretary to the Government George Mkondiwa, Secretary to the Treasury Ronald Mangani and the Minister of Health himself but they have not received any response to date.
Said the doctors: “A letter was physically delivered to various government offices on 28th August requesting the Malawi Government intervene and financially assist us because we are effectively stranded and abandoned. None of the letter recipients have responded to the letter or acknowledged receipt of the document.”
In the letter, the doctors told the government officials that the termination of the scholarships was affecting the South African universities ability to host them further at the schools.
The students have faulted the administration of the scholarship saying they heard from the grapevine in late 2014 that the funds had been depleted.
A follow up e-mail to the same officials on September 7 has also not been responded to.
“There are currently over 20 doctors desperately stranded in South Africa who have had no financial support for two months and no prospect of imminent aid as the government has failed to acknowledge our situation,” the doctors told The Nation.
The doctors were receiving a monthly stipend of South African rand 6 500, a book allowance of R3 700 (K151 700), health insurance of R6 000 (K246 000) apart from an annual conference attendance allowance of R4 500 (K184 500) and clinical allowance R3 000 (K123 000).
Ministry of Health acting spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe admitted knowledge of the situation of about 19 doctors because one graduated in February.
He said the ministry no longer had any obligations to the doctors.
Chikumbe said the Ministry of Health is concerned with their extended stay in South Africa as it deprives the nation of a very valuable human resource.
Malawi has a shortage of specialist doctors and failure by these doctors to complete their studies will mean further delay in having specialists in the country’s hospitals.