A discussion of this nature places a demand upon us to situate this issue within elementary concepts. Zambia’s administrative law is developing very quickly. As should be expected in a burgeoning democracy, the executive state is shedding-off much of its responsibility and assigning it to statutory bodies. Changes in the administrative law landscape in Zambia has accelerated after 2010. This change will not be easy to implement and even if the law were to be as clear as water fished from the Luapula, there will always be differences that must be worked out. The recent events surrounding the Copperbelt University’s medical degree and the confusion arising from it brings this issue to the fore.
It is to be expected in a very new regulatory system like we have in Zambia for both HEA and HPCZ to step on each other’s toes, at least for now. The government has a lot to work through and the two statutory bodies must meet and iron out any differences. This problem is likely to continue unless the two bodies iron out the differences. It is possible to find a middle ground here.
Here, we attempt to provide some clarity.
Zambia’s health professions are regulated, in public interest, by a body established by the Health Professions Act (2009). To put it bluntly, the Health Professions Council of Zambia (HPCZ) exists to ensure that the public is protected and that only those professionals who “know that they are doing” can provide health services to the population. To ensure this, the HPCZ regulates the professions (titles; e.g. who can use the title Dr? or psychologist?), where they practice (clinics, hospitals, etc), how they are trained (degrees, courses), and were they are trained (universities, colleges). In Zambia, you cannot just wake up one day and call yourself a medical doctor or nurse just because you possess a medical degree or a nursing degree. HPCZ or (due to the politics of nursing) the nursing council must give you a licence to practice and to call yourself by that title. This of course contrasts with other professions like us in Pentecostalism where we can wake up one day and call ourselves anything! Reverend, Bishop, Apostle or Prophetic Forensic Prayer Warrior. The reason is simple: health professions are regulated by law, and being Pentecostal isn’t (and it shouldn’t).
The HPCZ found that the Copperbelt University’s (CBU) medical school lacked proper academic infrastructure to offer adequate training to prepare medical practitioners. HPCZ acted swiftly by withdrawing recognition of the courses and the school. HPCZ has the mandate to ensure that universities that are claiming to train future medical practitioners have the necessary tools to train those practitioners to protect the Zambian public. I do not fault the HPCZ for being so swift and forthright: universities that are not investing in academic and professional infrastructure to train professionals must not be recognised by the statutory body mandated to protect the public.
We understand that after this decision from HPCZ, the Higher Education Authority (HEA), a statutory body that registers and accredits universities in Zambia has issued a statement contradicting HPCZ regarding CBU. HEA seems to suggest that CBU’s medical degree programs should continue unhindered.
The HEA has gotten it wrong. The HPCZ has the statutory duty and authority to withdraw recognition of particular health training programs it deems inadequate or harmful for practice. In that vein, it was perfectly in order for HPCZ to withdraw its recognition of the CBU programs. While the HEA accredits and registers all university education institutions in Zambia, it must defer to other statutory bodies who regulate those health (or other professional) industries for public safety and public interest. HEA is an academic body, it is not a specialised practitioner oriented body. HPCZ is the specialised body and has the mandate to protect the Zambian public from bogus medical practitioners who may harm the public due to inferior training. HPCZ must be given deference.
Professionally, the HPCZ is doing a good job and Zambian health professions must be proud that their rigorous training and ritual preparation is helping them build a great reputation in Zambia and around the world. Zambia is not in isolation anymore and there will be a lot of international intercourse of the professions globally. HPCZ must be at the forefront of ensuring that professionals meet that high professional standard.