Private Medical Colleges – A boon or a bane?

16 April 2012 08:11 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Government of Sri Lanka through Act, No. 21 of 1996 established the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in fraternisation with the UDHR and the Sri Lankan government is responsible for the maintenance and reinforcement of Human Rights in the country.Above proves that education is a basic human right and that higher education should be available on merit. Our governments were in concurrence to adhere to the above Declaration, but gradual choking of funds for free education and unnecessary compulsion in privatisation of education has led to a point where it could be termed as a violation of Human Rights.
The Private University concept was mooted in the late 1970s with the liberalised economy. It also takes us to the painful memories of the late 80s of the traumatic period when hundreds of young men were brutally killed. This saga of selling education has continued with eight attempts to form Private Medical Colleges during the last three decades. The lust for super profits by some unscrupulous local businessmen in exploiting private university education has led to recent controversies and malpractices. 
This conflict became apparent with the release of the report of the five member committee which was appointed by the Hon. Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena “to look into the matters related to the Private Medical School (SAITM) at Malabe”, in March 2012. According to the Report, Malabe PMC was established in 2009 as a BOI (Board of Investment) project of a businessman, with no affiliation to Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy and without any formal approval of the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and under the name South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM). In the very beginning, in defiance of the allegations of the SLMC and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), SAITM kept on matriculating students for a degree program via propaganda which is not accepted by the SLMC and MOH.
This Institute promised its pupils a Medical degree (MD), without even being endowed with the basic prerequisites of a hospital with adequate patients, special facilities and a pool of qualified staff of adequate stature. This we consider a deliberate offence caused upon the students of the SAITM.
It is sad to find that some students who do not even have 3 simple (S) A/L passes are now studying at the SAITM. As it is mentioned in the report, the officials of the SAITM admitted that they had enrolled two students who did not meet the minimum SLMC eligibility criterion which is just 3“S” passes. This pathetic situation at the beginning signifies the magnitude of the issue of tomorrow. This affirms the validity of the allegations by the SLMC, GMOA and thousands of Medical students opposing the Malabe PMC.
A more shocking revelation is that the majority of the faculty staff serving the SAITM currently are foreign medical graduates who could not get through the Act 16 examination even after many attempts. These who have not passed Act 16 examination are, according to Sri Lankan standards not considered doctors. As students at the state Medical Colleges, we are shocked to witness this sinister attempt to devalue medical education and the medical profession in the country.
A profound controversy and a heated debate arose regarding the existence of the ERMP (Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine in Sri Lanka) or ACT 16 Examination with the emergence of PMC. It is unthinkable to come across paper advertisements of the Malabe PMC, on two Medical degrees. One is the twining programme where the candidate is supposed to come through the ERPM exam and the other is the SAITM medical degree where no Sri Lankan standard is required to practice medicine in the country.
To practise medicine in the US and in Australia medical graduates should pass the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) and AMC (Australian Medical Council) examinations respectively which even Sri Lankan graduates find difficult to pass. In the same way, any person of any nationality who wishes to practice in Sri Lanka should pass the ERPM exam. It is aimed exclusively to maintain the standards of medical practitioners of Sri Lanka.
Moreover, it has to be stated that foreign graduates who sit the Act 16 examination suffer a failure rate of nearly 80 percent. The amusing point is through a special gazette the Ministry of Higher Education has decreed that the PMC students need not sit for the Act 16 examination. This means, the category of the 80 percent students who failed Act 16 in the past will now be awarded medical degrees.
This means that Sri Lankans may be treated in the future by doctors who have not passed Act 16 examination or who have not competently qualified in Sri Lankan standards. If we passively allow this tragic legislation to take its natural course, the future of patients is anyone’s guess. So it is the responsibility of the intelligent reader to appreciate impending catastrophe.
Countries possessing high medical standards such as Cuba and New Zealand have rejected the PMC concept and in the UK and Australia, countries which earn enormous amounts of foreign exchange through education, have issued permits for only one and two PMCs respectively. The most important point is that the entry criteria for both government and state medical colleges remain the same, which in turn emphasises the commitment of those countries in maintaining the standards of their health care sectors.
But here in Sri Lanka, our relevant authorities proclaim that they are to issue permits for three more PMCs, other than the current Malabe PMC. Moreover, reliable sources revealed that there are 15 more proposals pending in the pipeline. I would like to implore the government to explain the way this would serve our students and the masses.
The initial blow of all these is the drastic cut of funds for universities by the government which have resulted in the exodus of the qualified teaching staff from universities into private institutions because of the low salaries paid to them by state universities. Finally a gradual choking of the financial livelihood of state universities will result in a premeditated natural death of free medical education eventually.
Moreover, the five member committee report explicitly states the deception which was driven by the SAITM to circumvent the BOI, the SLMC and the MOH. This is an infraction of statute, deliberately carried out against its students and the masses with the sole purpose of accomplishing this particular business venture and of keeping the cash cow alive.
In this deceptive and unpatriotic ambience perpetuated by the state allowing greedy businessmen to make more money, it is not an illusion for us to observe PMCs functioning under the auspices of the state and its bureaus. But it is astonishing to see our countrymen deceived by false propaganda by the state. At this crucial hour it is our patriotic entreaty that the government retracts this obnoxious legislation for the sake of the integrity and the perpetuation of the highest standards of our medical profession and for the safety of life of our countrymen.


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