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UDSM and Oslo University Develop a Solution for Ethical Dilemmas in Healthcare Delivery in Tanzania

By Our Correspondent

In Tanzania’s healthcare system, healthcare providers often face numerous ethical challenges when making decisions about treating patients. These challenges, which frequently lead to dilemmas, can sometimes result in patient deaths, particularly when patients refuse treatment. To address this issue, the University of Dar es Salaam, through its Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, in collaboration with the University of Oslo in Norway, has launched the first Medical Ethics Committee in Tanzania.

Wajumbe ya Kamati ya kwanza ya Maadili ya Kitabibu wakiwa katika picha ya pamoja Uongozi wa Hospitali ya Rufaa ya Kanda Mbeya pamoja na Wakufunzi.

This committee is part of a five-year project known as ETHIMED, which began in 2022 and is expected to conclude in 2026. The committee aims to assist healthcare providers in dealing with the ethical dilemmas they encounter when providing patient care.

For the first time in Tanzania, the launch of this committee took place on February 5, 2024, at the Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital. Dr. Godlove Mbwanji, the Executive Director of Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital, stated that the formation of this committee is a significant support for healthcare providers, especially when making treatment decisions.

“The medical ethics committee established here is the first of its kind in the country, and our hospital is fortunate to be the first to have this committee,” said Dr. Mbwanji, adding, “Healthcare providers frequently encounter various dilemmas when making treatment decisions. Often, when professionals face these challenges, each one struggles to determine the right course of action. There are ethical considerations that must be observed to ensure that the decisions made do not harm the patient or the provider.”

Ethics and Efficiency in Healthcare

Lucas Kitula, Assistant Lecturer from the University of Dar es Salaam’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies and the Coordinator of the ETHIMED project, said that establishing this committee is a good start in ensuring that medical ethics education reaches other hospitals in the country.

“Ethical dilemmas are very common in our hospitals. Establishing this committee here in Mbeya is the first step. If we receive more funding, we will be able to reach more hospitals. This committee will help healthcare providers deal with dilemmas when making decisions about patient care,” said Kitula.

Kitula noted that the ETHIMED project, while starting in Mbeya, aims to expand its scope to other hospitals in the country. “In addition to establishing this committee, we will conduct seminars to monitor progress and ensure that what we have taught is being implemented correctly,” Kitula added.

Contribution of Universities in Strengthening Medical Ethics

Dr. Michael Lyakulwa, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam, stated that this project will help resolve various ethical dilemmas that arise when providing medical care to patients.

“As a department and university, our duty is to serve the community. This project has helped us see how our healthcare professionals can make decisions when they face dilemmas during service delivery,” said Dr. Lyakulwa.

He also mentioned that Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital is the first to have this medical ethics committee, and they expect the Ministry of Health to support the establishment of such committees in other hospitals across the country to help healthcare providers handle ethical dilemmas in patient care.

Training and Responsibilities of the Committee

Shija Kuhumba, an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam and a PhD student in Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo, stated that the training aims to examine how the committee should be structured and its responsibilities.

“This is a continuation of what we did last year in providing training. We have now established a committee whose main task will be to reflect on dilemmas that arise in the course of work, such as patients refusing treatment. This situation presents a difficult time for healthcare providers in making treatment decisions. Therefore, having this body will help provide answers to challenges, including offering advice,” said Kuhumba.

International Experience

Dr. Berit Hofset Larsen, a medical ethics expert from the University of Oslo in Norway, said that establishing this committee will help avoid many dilemmas that arise during the provision of healthcare services to workers.

“We are pleased to see that this committee has been established here in the country, and our role is to help provide training and share our experiences. We believe this will be a great help to healthcare providers here in Tanzania,” said Dr. Larsen.

In conclusion, the launch of the Medical Ethics Committee at Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital is a significant step in ensuring that healthcare providers receive support in making ethically sound decisions. This initiative will help improve healthcare services in the country and reduce the ethical dilemmas faced by healthcare providers.

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