The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and the South African Medical Association (SAMA) have expressed concern over the impact that the #FeesMustFall protests could have on final year medical students.

Dr Motsoaledi has warned that the on-going protests could have a devastating impact on the public health sector; if medical students are not able to graduate at the end of this year, then there will be almost 2,000 fewer junior doctors entering the public health system in 2017.

SAMA also noted that interns and junior doctors are the “bedrock on which the public healthcare system is based,” and that any disruption to their training will have dire consequences.

“The public healthcare system is, as we all know, under immense strain. It is a fragile system and is highly dependent on the annual replenishing of new graduates into the system. Jeopardising this new intake will seriously impede healthcare delivery, and will ultimately have a knock-on effect on patient morbidity and even mortality,” said Chairperson of SAMA, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom.

Dr Grootboom added that apart from this immediate challenge, the medium to long-term consequences of a lack of new interns and junior doctors would also be significant.

“Clearly the issues apply equally to the graduation of all professional cadres from our universities, including other healthcare and non-healthcare professionals.  Our concern however is based on the potential negative impact on patient care and the consequences for our public healthcare system that delivers healthcare to the most vulnerable in our country,” said Dr Grootboom.

SAMA has called on all students, universities and the government to find a lasting solution in the interests of South Africa’s future. The organisation also noted that government has demonstrated a lack of leadership so far and urged it to intervene urgently.

“South Africa is a resilient country known for resolving its issues through peaceful dialogue; the current events call for that approach to be exercised again. A lasting solution to free quality education, from primary through to higher education, needs to be sought with a degree of urgency,” said Dr Grootboom.

“Without the proper education of our people, our country will never make the strides it needs to address the economic needs, and imbalances that prevail,” concluded Dr Grootboom.

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