Biomedical Sciences in Mauritius in the New Millennium
Martin Parry, FIBMS, MSc, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, School of Biosciences, University of Westminster.
This represents a summary of impressions gained of Mauritius, it's people and, more precisely, it's Medical Laboratory Services during a visit undertaken in May 2000. I had been invited by the Association of Biomedical Analysts (ABA), a professional body recently established in Mauritius to promote the development, training and profile of Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) within the Health Services on the island. The link between the profession in Mauritius and the University of Westminster has been developed over a number of years as several of their number has studied with us on BSc and MSc courses in Biomedical Sciences.
There are over 200 MLTs in Mauritius, concentrated at the Central Health Laboratory at the Victoria Hospital, Candos which lies some 10 kilometres from the capital Port Louis. There are five satellite laboratories contributing to the diagnostic services, with an outpost on the neighbouring island of Rodrigues. All major disciplines of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) are represented, including Virology, based in a modern laboratory at Victoria Hospital, and, at the same site, a full twenty-four hour emergency service is offered, based around a Blood Transfusion centre opened in 1998.
A number of private, multidisciplinary laboratories have also been established although these do not currently rival the public sector in their depth or breadth of services.
MLT Career Structure
All public sector staff are recruited and employed by the Ministry of Health and begin as student MLTs, progressing, with laboratory experience and appropriate qualification, through posts of Junior MLT, MLT, Senior MLT, Principal and, ultimately, Chief MLT who is in technical charge of the Central Health Laboratory. The Ministry of Health determines the number and timing of a new student intake in a centrally controlled career pathway. It would be fair to say that promotion is based heavily on the number of years spent in post.
Student MLTs are predominantly school leavers with 'A' levels who follow an established pathway of laboratory-based training linked to teaching at the University of Mauritius. This forms a four-year programme of study of 30 weeks per year where student time is divided between the Central Health Laboratory (2 days per week) and the University of Mauritius (3 days per week), culminating in the award of the Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology.
Students rotate through the disciplines in the laboratory and senior laboratory staff perform the majority of special subject instruction both in the laboratory and at the university. This programme offers an interesting contrast to current UK practice where most Trainee Biomedical Scientists attain State registration by following a four-year, one day per week BSc in Biomedical Sciences in conjunction with completion of a log book and a viva voce. Additionally, most UK trainees do not rotate through the different disciplines of BMS.
Continuing Professional Development
Many MLTs showed great awareness of the need for, and the benefits of, Continuing Professional Development (CPD). In line with their UK counterparts, they are anxious to participate in a local scheme but necessarily have their own difficulties in establishing one, largely due to their geographical isolation.
With its prime aim of further developing BMS, the ABA has been founded at an important time in the island. Mauritius is vibrant and embracing new technologies as it changes into a developed country by investing the income generated by agriculture (mainly sugar cane), textile manufacturing and tourism. This transformation at the beginning of the New Millennium is inevitably having an influence on their laboratory services where, for example, automation and molecular biology are making their impact. The geographical isolation of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean has meant that many of the population, not least scientists, have eagerly joined the 'Internet Revolution'.
Members of the ABA, especially the President, Kushen Ramessur, and the Secretary, Ramesh Ramathsing, impressed me with their understanding of the implications of these changes for their profession. They have the support of the medical staff at the Central Health Laboratories, Victoria Hospital headed by Consultant Pathologist Dr Jeebun as they raise the professional profile of their colleagues. Recent ABA initiatives include the launch of a quarterly newsletter and the organisation of a Symposium on Quality Assurance in Mauritius, attended by 50 delegates. For any UK-based Mauritian, I include here the ABA website addresses, where further details of the Association can be found:
http://members.tripod.co.uk/bioanalyst or http://bioanalyst.tripod.com
During discussions with them, they highlighted to me the issues they feel should be addressed within their profession. In particular, the current Diploma in MLT needs developing into an Honours BSc to help Mauritius consolidate its leadership in BMW in the region. The design of such a course must also offer a mechanism for current Diploma holders to convert to graduate status.
An all graduate profession will offer an attractive pathway for ambitious Mauritian school leavers to join an expanding Health Service and to contribute to the island's scientific community. Further, it would bring the profession into line with Nursing which is now able to offer graduate training programme in Mauritius.
The role of the members, officers and supporters of the ABA in developing the scientific voice of their profession should be encouraged and I wish them luck!
This report is based upon a visit by the author to Mauritius at ht e invitation of the ABA to discuss developments in BMS education. It was sponsored by the Staff Development Fund at School of Biosciences at University of Westminster.
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