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Urgent proposal to help SA medical students whose studies abroad were torpedoed by war in Ukraine

Student Vutlhari Mtonga and her sister Mikateko Mtonga, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, after fleeing from Ukraine. File photo.
Student Vutlhari Mtonga and her sister Mikateko Mtonga, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, after fleeing from Ukraine. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell

The SA Committee of Medical Deans (SACOMD) has proposed convening a group of experts to urgently consider alternative placements for SA students abroad whose medical studies are in turmoil due to the war in Ukraine.

“In recent years there has been an increase in the numbers of young people seeking medical education abroad in foreign destinations, some of which may have substantially different entry requirements to those applied in SA. At last estimate, this number exceeded 2,000,” the committee said on Tuesday.

Problems associated with reintegrating this cohort into SA’s health system have occupied universities, accreditation bodies such as the Health Professions Council of SA and government departments for the past five years.

Two global events placed many SA students studying medicine abroad in a predicament — the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the committee said.

“Since 2020, the pressure of a global pandemic has resulted in many students being returned to SA and subsequently not able to return to their chosen universities abroad.

The war in Ukraine has created untold human suffering. For SA students studying in that country, the burdens of suddenly being without a place to study cannot be estimated
SA Committee of Medical Deans

“These students are constantly approaching SA medical schools for support and integration.

“Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has created untold human suffering. For SA students studying in that country, the burdens of suddenly being without a place to study cannot be estimated. This has added the need for a more urgent response to their situation.”

Medical student Vutlhari Mtonga was among the SA citizens who fled Ukraine when bombs rained down. She recently escaped from the death and destruction with 10 other SA students.

“These are people’s lives. People are dying on the other side of the world. The message I want to put across is that South Africans must realise this is genocide happening in Ukraine,” she said in an interview with Sunday Times Daily.

In the context of the colliding crises of the pandemic and war in Ukraine, SACOMD proposed establishing an urgent forum to discuss and create plans for processes managing all students studying medicine abroad.

This would include convening a group to “urgently consider the placement of these Ukraine-based medical students in alternative European sites with reciprocal medical qualifications. This group should include SACOMD, Universities SA and government departments dealing with higher education and training, health, and international relations and co-operation.”

It would also include ongoing discussions among medical deans to create suitable responses to the urgent needs for supporting student clinical development.

SACOMD comprises the leadership of faculties of health sciences which include medical schools in SA.

TimesLIVE


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