Tanzania: New Training Strategy to Undo Shortage of Anaesthesia Experts

Dar es Salaam — In Tanzania, where a population of a million people relies on a single anesthesiologist, the worry is always about the fate of women and newborn children during childbirth at the country's less-equipped rural hospitals.

However, there is another dilemma attached to the efforts being made to train and increase the number of anesthesiologists in the needy regions where, sadly, the doctor - patient ratio is quite unproportional

Yet, Alex Lwiza, a Master's student in Anaesthesiology at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas), believes that doctors in the rural parts of the country still lack enough exposure on what anaesthesiology entails.

"Most doctors usually find it easier to go for other courses like surgery, Obstetrics/Gynaecology, Paediatrics or Internal Medicine. They say there is a high demand for specialists in those fields," he says.

Dr Lwiza, who is a beneficiary of training programs which are meant to enhance life-saving skills of anaesthesiologists at Muhas, is hopeful that one day, the shortage of experts of his caliber, will one day come to an end.

But, the question remains: How can doctors leave rural hospitals for such specializedstudies amid shortages of workforce at their work stations?

Cases abound of the medics who get admission offers to universities for Masters Degrees--some in anaesthesiology--but are not granted permission to leave because staff shortage. Some are the only--or rather dependable medical officers at their work stations, The Citizen is informed.

On top of that, Tanzania still suffers unnecessarily high rates of maternal death, says Dr Ellen Senkoro, whose organization, the Benjamin William Mkapa Foundation (BMF), works in rural areas to extend health services to the underserved.

"On average, 24 women a day fall victim to complications of pregnancy and childbirth leading to death, most of them in rural areas where access to healthcare is limited," says Dr Senkoro.

Among the limited services is anesthesia care which is still clouded with lack of trained staff, infrastructure and equipment, leading to high rates of preventable death and disability.

In the midst of this reality, stakeholders in Anaesthesilolgy are banking their hopes on the ongoing plans by Tanzania to come up with a fellowship program which would ensure that doctors get their necessary training in Anesthesiology at their work stations.

This was revealed recently at Muhas as the government teamed up with a US-based medical technology company, Gradian Health Systems to unveil the country's first ever skills lab for anaesthesia experts--the Anesthesia and Critical Care Simulation Laboratory.

Gradian Health Systems has joined hands with the government of Tanzania through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that aims to combine specialized training facilities with world-class technology to transform anesthesia care in every region of the country.

According to the President of the Society of Anaesthesiologists of Tanzania (SATA), Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya, the fellowship program, which is awaiting the approval by the Medical Council of Tanganyika (MCT), is expected to be a game-changer by bridging the shortage of anaesthesiologists in the country.

"With fellowship programs, a doctor is assigned training tasks that he/she is expected to achieve, then, preparations for exams follow," says Dr Ulisubisya.

Dr Ulisubisya says a wide-range of training programs have been put on pipeline to deal with the shortage of such experts in Tanzania.

One of them is the training of medical doctors on how they can apply new anaesthesia technologies, the Universal Anaesthesia Machine (UAM) from Gradian Health Systems.

The UAMs, according to details, can generate own medical oxygen and work without electricity. To date, more than 200 of the machines have been procured by the government and 160 have already been installed in health facilities across the country.

Related: $3million medical tech investment benefits 200 health facilities in Tanzania

Alongside this, Muhas has accredited a curriculum on the UAMs, which according to the university's Vice Chancellor Prof Andrea Pembe, will enhance national and international recognition.

BMF's Chief Executive Officer, Dr Senkoro says lives of newborns and women in the rural parts of the country can better be saved through improved training of health workers and innovative technology.

Related: Worrying statistics that medical technology could address effectively

Through BMF, she says, "[We] have been striving to be a hub of innovation to ensure equitable, accessible and quality health services delivery."

"We have established programs for] mentoring healthcare workers to better manage patients and at the same time raising awareness and mobilizing communities to seek appropriate care," says Dr Senkoro.

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