By Byron Mutingwende
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the University of Zimbabwe and the International Organisation for Migration seeks to develop and strengthening capacity for the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences (UZCHS)’s s quest to deliver its mandate in research, teaching and service to the community.
In his speech , the University of Zimbabwe Acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Mapfumo, on the occasion of the signing ceremony, said improving the health of a nation’s citizens contributes to economic growth and progress as healthy populations are more productive and live longer.
He bemoaned the fact that that over the past two decades, Zimbabwe has experienced significant brain drain across the health delivery and other service sectors.
“Herein lies the significance of the collaboration that we are entering into today. The partnership that we are forging today between the University and the International Organisation for Migration, hereinafter referred to as the Diaspora Skills Transfer Initiative, seeks to mitigate the effects of the brain drain by enabling the College to tap into the Zimbabwean health care experts in the diaspora,” Prof Mapfumo said.
The Diaspora Knowledge and Skills Transfer Initiative is within the framework of the “Promoting Migration Governance in Zimbabwe” project funded under the 11th European Union Development Fund (EDF) and the IOM Development Fund (IDF).
It is expected that the collaboration will pay particular attention to capacitating extremely short staffed disciplines and those departments that have recently introduced new training programmes where there are challenges in attracting the relevant expertise locally.
In her remarks, Lily Sanya, the IOM Chief of Mission to Zimbabwe underscored the fact that the initiative is also designed to enable appropriately qualified Zimbabweans in the diaspora to contribute to the national developmental agenda as they engage in teaching, clinical work, research and examinations in the UZCHS, thereby developing capacity for the health sector in Zimbabwe to effectively deliver on its mandate.
“The need for the University of Zimbabwe, in particular, the College of Health Sciences to produce highly skilled health care graduates who can be trusted to provide quality health care to the national population need not be overemphasised. The initiative we are witnessing today will definitely contribute to the enhancement of quality training and subsequently quality health care provision.
‘Some Zimbabweans currently travel long distances to numerous global destinations seeking expert health care provision, and in the process, draining the national fiscus. I am hopeful therefore that the initiative we are witnessing today will be scaled up to build local capacity for the provision of subspecialty health care services to the nation by those expert Zimbabweans in the diaspora,” Sanya said.
Prof Mapfumoi said the University has a strong internationalisation drive with a huge portfolio of collaborations.
“The College should leverage on the initiative being consummated today and forge even more strategic collaborations with the host institutions where the Zimbabwean diaspora experts are engaged.
“Let me express heartfelt gratitude to the International Organisation for Migration, its international partners, and the government ministries who facilitated the Diaspora Skills Transfer Initiative. The University commits to play its role in ensuring that the initiative is smoothly implemented and maximum benefit is derived for better learning outcomes for our health care graduates.”
Professor Rangarirai Masanganise, the Dean of UZCHS said IOM assisted the College’s clinical departments during the period 2007 to 2009. At that time the College had experienced massive staff attrition because of the economic challenges that the country was facing.
“This enabled us to continue producing world-class health cadres. We are most appreciative of the fact that IOM has resuscitated this arrangement to bring in qualified Zimbabweans from the diaspora to assist us.
“This also helps to benchmark our training against the international institutions that they are coming from. The college undertakes to operationalise this agreement to ensure maximum benefit to our training programmes,” Prof Masanganise said.
Ms Julia Chirapa, the Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe National Commission for UNESCO under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development said such a partnership was critical in addressing the skills deficit in training institutions and reiterated government’s full support of the initiative.
“This initiative is in line with the country’s vision of being middle income economy by 2030 that is also linked to our ministry’s vision to industrialise and modernise with education at the centre of solutions as the country strives for “a country of our dreams, a country that is free from hate, conflict, poverty and preventable diseases” through education.
“There is need for a healthy population. That can be achieved by ensuring that the country has adequate and competent health professionals. The Ministry welcomes the initiative to bring in health professionals for the College of Health Sciences. The health sector has a skills availability of 5% according to the National Skills Audit report (2018),” Ms Chirapa said.
The country’s health delivery sector is inarguably the worst affected by the phenomenon as health workers are emigrating in search of greener pastures in southern Africa, western Europe, North America and Australia. Consequently, health service provision has been adversely affected, especially in remote locations. According to the National Critical Skills Audit (2018), there is an overall 95 per cent shortage of skills in the health and medical sector with a percentage shortage is mostly above 80 per cent for specialist medical fields.
Whilst some members of this important group have acquired nationalities of other countries, they still maintain ties and are willing to participate in national development processes.
Most prominently the sending of financial remittances has been said to have significant transformative development potential. Beyond remittances, the Zimbabwean diaspora has contributed to national development through trade and business investment, diaspora tourism and crucially knowledge and skills transfer through the return of health professionals from abroad. It is therefore evident that departure is not an absolute loss and transnationally oriented medical migrants (or diasporas) can act as development agents in their home countries
This initiative will benefit: medical training institutions, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development and the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other relevant stakeholders through a skills transfer mechanism, for voluntary short-term sequenced returns of health and tertiary education professionals.
Moreover, this initiative presents a unique opportunity within the new political dispensation for building bridges between the Government and the Zimbabwean diaspora for their increased participation in national development