Mauritania’s Only Medical School Graduates Its First Class
NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania—Mauritania has celebrated the graduation of 14 doctors, including two female doctors—the first class of a new faculty of medicine.
The graduating class is the fruit of new Mauritanian government policies to try to stem the tide of medical students from the country who are going abroad, and to create the internal capacity to improve the quality of the country’s health care.
The Mauritanian Faculty of Medicine was established in 2006, the only full-fledged medical school in the country, and it is part of the University of Nouakchott. The training program takes eight years and includes many theoretical subjects, in addition to practical training in local hospitals. Currently, 857 students study at the medical school, under the supervision of professors and doctors from Mauritania, Senegal, and Algeria.
“Establishing the Faculty of Medicine was a necessity,” said Sidi Weld Salem, minister of education and scientific research in Mauritania during the medical students’ graduation ceremony last month. “It was imposed by the medical and educational state of affairs in a country that suffers from a lack of human staff in hospitals because of the burden of sending medical students to scholarships abroad.”
Mauritania’s 17 hospitals are staffed by about 10,000 doctors and nurses of different nationalities (Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, and France) and locals who have studied abroad, according to Ministry of Health statistics. Still, the number of doctors in the country is about 40 percent lower than it should be, the ministry says.
The country needs doctors in part because cancer is on the rise, and the nation also suffers from the spread of infectious diseases, especially in southern and eastern governorates. “Many people complain about the absence of basic medical services in hospitals, and we need to fill this dire need immediately,” said Naseiba Abdel Kader, one of the graduates of the new faculty.
Among Mauritania’s population of more than 4 million people, malaria, tuberculosis, and lung infections are the chief causes of death, according to World Health Organization statistics. Boys have a 34 percent chance of dying before they reach age 15, while girls have a 28 percent chance of dying before they reach that age.
Abdullah Weld Mohammad Mahmoud, a general practitioner in the main hospital in Rosso, the capital of Trarza, says that the poor salaries paid by Mauritanian hospitals drive many doctors to work abroad.
Soad Bent Mohammad, a nurse, says that the hospitals also suffer from a lack of basic medical equipment and supplies such as thermometers. Recently, the country has witnessed the widespread sale of counterfeit medicines. Mauritania has become a main source of fake medicines in east Africa, producing useless medicines that generate about $70 million in sales a year, pharmacists say.
The counterfeit medicine means many people go without real treatment, don’t trust local doctors, and resort to treatment abroad, says a general practitioner, Ahmed Weld Al-Baseir.
Graduates hope their faculty will be a major stride on the path towards improving the health sector in their country.
“The Faculty of Medicine enjoys the support of the government, in addition to an intensive educational curriculum set in cooperation with several French universities,” said Nasser Al-Din Weld Seidi Mohammed, the top-ranking graduate of the medical class.
Sayed Ahmed Weld Makeya, dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Mauritania, emphasizes that the practical curriculum at the Faculty is based on French-speaking faculties’ curricula; however, it is being taught in Arabic. “An authority affiliated with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research employing university professors regularly reviews the quality of this curriculum,” he said.
The establishment of the Faculty of Medicine in Mauritania is considered a major change in the educational system in the country, says Habib Allah Weld Ahmed, a journalist and scholar. “There are a lot of challenges ahead of this emerging Faculty,” he said, “the most important of which is its ability to continue and keep up with recent developments and the ongoing and ever-increasing scientific research in the world.”