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New Adventist medical school in Nigeria is denomination’s first in Africa

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New Adventist medical school in Nigeria is denomination’s first in Africa

Pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, left, with his wife, Candy, at the official launch of the Benjamin S. Carson Sr. School of Medicine at Adventist-run Babcock University on June 1 in Lagos, Nigeria. Carson said the school equips Africa to begin addressing its public health challenges. [photo: Babcock University]

A challenge to meet continent’s daunting public health needs

June 11, 2012 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

A new Seventh-day Adventist School of Medicine in Nigeria is the denomination’s first in Africa.

The Benjamin S. Carson Sr. School of Medicine and Babcock University Teaching Hospital was inaugurated this month during commencement services at church-run Babcock University in Lagos, Nigeria.

Adventist Education and Health Ministries officials say the new school signals a growing commitment by Africans to build self-sufficiency in addressing the sweeping public health challenges the continent faces.

According to United Nations reports, Sub-Saharan Africa alone is home to at least two-thirds of the 33 million adults and children worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, yet the region accounts for just 1 percent of global health spending and 2 percent of the global healthcare workforce.

The launch of a medical school in Nigeria, while not an immediate fix, is “a clear start” toward a “healthcare delivery system yet unrivaled in Africa,” said Babcock University President James Makinde. 

The School of Medicine operates out of Babcock University College of Health and Medical Sciences, which also includes schools of Nursing and Public Health. Administrators say schools of Pharmacy and Dentistry are on the horizon. The school is accredited to grant a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree, the first professional degree a medical student can earn studying at a university that follows the British model of post-secondary education.

The 37 students currently enrolled in the MBBS program have been studying since January, when Babcock University administrators first requested a public inauguration for the fledgling medical school. But at the time, the official launch was prevented by yet unmet accreditation requirements and unrest after the Nigerian government lifted a gas subsidy, said Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, Education director for the Adventist world church.

“We needed to verify that [accrediting] conditions had been met. They have now been substantially met,” Beardsley-Hardy said. The infrastructure for the medical school is now nearly complete, too, she added.

Adventist Education officials worked closely with the world church’s Health Ministries to set benchmarks for the medical school.

Health Ministries director Allan Handysides, who has supported medical mission work in Africa for decades, echoed Beardsley-Hardy’s endorsement.

“I have seldom seen such remarkable progress in such short time at any of our other institutions. The team at Babcock has taken the suggestions and guidance given seriously, and the result is outstanding,” Handysides said.

“We believe that this fledgling institution has the potential to grow and reach new heights and standards of excellence,” he added. “We are grateful to God for his blessings and also to the energy, vision and tenacity of the team at Babcock and the administration of the [church’s] West-Central African Division.”

World renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, after whom the medical school is named, spoke at the launch, noting that a top-notch medical school in Africa positions the continent as a player in finding solutions for the region’s challenges.

“I am extremely pleased to have my name associated with Babcock University because of its visionary leadership and the great potential that it has to produce a variety of excellent healthcare professionals that will have a positive impact not only on Nigeria, but on the whole continent of Africa and potentially the entire world,” Carson later told ANN.

Carson, an Adventist who has used the public spotlight to share the church’s message of hope and healing, urged Babcock medical students to look for opportunities for mission-minded outreach. 

“Babcock University has a reputation for excellence and in fact is considered by many to be the number one private university in Nigeria,” Carson said. “It is well positioned to bring medical care followed by spiritual care to the masses in the same way that Jesus did.”

The Benjamin S. Carson Sr. School of Medicine is the Adventist Church’s fourth medical school worldwide, and its second English-language medical school. The church operates medical schools in Montemorelos, Mexico; Entre Rios, Argentina; and its flagship school in Loma Linda, California, United States. Adventist universities in Peru and the Philippines are also building medical programs.

Students at Babcock can choose from among three tracks: one serves Nigeria, one the entire West African region and another, the “global track,” includes rotations in the United Kingdom and the U.S.

In recent years, Africa has struggled to keep trained professionals in the region after graduation. The UN Development Program estimates that some 20,000 skilled Africans emigrate every year, often choosing the economic opportunities and political stability of Western Europe and North America. The loss of medical doctors has been “the most striking,” according to agency reports.

“I hope that the global track does not become the primary track, so that this just becomes another means of exodus outside the country,” Beardsley-Hardy said.

Adventist education officials say clear paths for medical service in the region will guard against further brain drain.

“We want to train not just doctors, but medical missionaries who will go to all parts of the sub-region and give healthcare from the Biblical perspective,” said Chiemela Ikonne, Education director for denomination’s West-Central Africa Division.

“The healing of the body can never be complete without the healing of the mind. This method of training brings the dimension that is lacking in the secular preparation of medical doctors,” Ikonne said.

-- additional reporting by Ansel Oliver 

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