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Reflections on Medical Education in Africa

25 September 2017

On the 8th June 2017, THET’s founder Professor Sir Eldryd Parry attended the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Triennial Meeting: Excellence in Health Care 2017 and gave the Robert Hamilton Lecture.

We set out to do what was needed, and so we were radical. It is essential to begin radically, as far away from the means as possible, because time and chance will force the radical to regress towards the mean

The lecture was a celebration of the rich and explorative nature of Scotland’s relationship with Africa, from Mungo Park, a surgeon from a small farm in the Borders of Scotland who traced the course of the Niger, to David Livingstone, Eldryd spoke of these ‘men of history who gave their lives for Africa. Extraordinary in persistence, unflinching in courage and patient in endurance, they are a telling model for those of us who have anything to do with medicine in Africa today.’

Eldryd’s own engagement with Africa began after working for two Scottish professors of medicine, both of which had worked together in the 1930s. In September 1960, just six days after they were married, Eldryd and his wife Helen sailed to Nigeria to start work in the ‘splendid teaching hospital’, Ibadan University College Hospital. They found the standards of clinical medical education impeccable and the Parry’s stayed for two and a half year, almost three times as long as originally planned.

A few years later, they accepted a post in Addis Ababa and closed the door on their careers in Britain. In the preceding years, they spent time in Ethiopia and Nigeria, endeavouring to make their education relevant; ‘It was not enough to practice clinical science at the bedside and then to send the patient to a home of which we knew nothing…so we took students regularly to where the patients lived’.

As the 1980s began, it was became clear that the interest and support that the United Kingdom had given to Universities and Medical Schools across Africa had almost dried up. And thus THET, the Tropical Health and Education Trust was founded by Eldryd and a group of friends, to respond to their needs and to take the opportunities of working in partnership with them to further health care education.

Scotland’s contribution to global health continues today, as the Scottish Government’s International Development Strategy and the Health Service’s Commitment to Global Citizenship exemplifies, the value of volunteering and partnership is as strong today as it was when Mungo Park took to the waters of the Niger.

As the lecture drew to a close Eldryd, as always, left the audience with thoughtful words of encouragement:

And so to tread again the road of those early pioneers. That road will be long and there will be disappointments and difficulties, but how significant for Scottish universities and the Scottish Health Services to be active in development, with not outdatedly for, our colleagues overseas and how important for the morale and experience of the staff.

We are pleased that Eldryd’s and THET’s links with Scottish health institutions have only continued to grow and strengthen over the last 50 years. In the last 17 years, funded by donors from DFID, the Department of Health and Johnson & Johnson, THET has managed 22 health partnerships with Scottish UK lead organisations. From the University of Aberdeen to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, partnerships have continued to further health care education from Ethiopia to Myanmar.

This post was written by:

Professor Sir Eldryd Parry - Founder


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