Discovery Foundation’s R20 million student-doctor funding injection boosts healthcare

An innovative funding partnership with a capital injection of R20 million by the Discovery Foundation will see Standard Bank and the University of Pretoria put 800 students through medical school over the next 14 years. Worth twice this amount via loan funding, the initiative is aimed at plugging the gaps where promising medical students drop out due to lack of finances, or helping others who simply never secure loans to begin with. This is particularly significant because the government’s White Paper on Human Resources for Health shows that, even with a national teaching platform across the current eight medical campuses expanded to accommodate orientation for the ambitious Cuban-training program for local doctors, we’ll only just maintain current doctor to patient ratios over the next 12 years. Task shifting, a huge pre-NHI shift to primary care delivery and centralised, discipline-specific healthcare facilities are among the non-HR interventions recommended to deal with our burgeoning population and quadruple burden of disease. However, every single extra qualifying medical student will prove to be gold and decrease pressure on physicians, especially in the struggling public sector, where all must serve at least three years (internship and community service) before being registered to practice. The loans are not freebies – they must be paid back. Besides providing the collateral for hundreds of otherwise financially frozen-out candidates, the funds will strengthen the health system in a way no other private local healthcare company yet has. If successful, the intention is to spread it across all eight medical campuses. An inspiring example of the private sector coming to the party… – Chris Bateman

Discovery Foundation:

The Discovery Foundation and the University of Pretoria today announced the implementation of a Medical Student Loan Guarantee Fund that will be managed by Standard Bank. Through the initiative, Discovery Foundation – an independent trust that has committed over R160 million in education, training and development of medical specialists and research centres over the past 10 years – will capitalise a separate loan fund intended to provide financial support to current and future qualifying medical students of the University of Pretoria.

Chairman of Discovery Foundation, Dr Vincent Maphai says, “Discovery supports our country’s goal to address shortages in medical and specialist skills. The Discovery Foundation has since 2006 awarded grants to fund critical areas of need in our public healthcare system, including specialist training and research.” The loan fund aims to support the many medical students who do not have access to full funding for their studies. Although different to the grants Discovery Foundation makes each year, Maphai says, “Providing medical students with financial support to complete their medical studies extends the purpose of Discovery Foundation and offers another mechanism to help strengthen our healthcare system.”

Discovery Foundation will initially capitalise the loan fund with R20 million, which will be used to raise loan funding from Standard Bank to a value of over R40 million per annum. The Fund is anticipated to operate over 14 years, and expects to support over 800 medical students over this period. The Fund provided 86 students with loans in 2016, and applications are now being received from students registering for MBChB from their second to sixth year of studies at the University of Pretoria in 2017.  All qualifying students can apply each year to receive loans of up to of R100 000 per student, which will be repaid upon completion of their studies.

This agreement between the Discovery Foundation and other parties follows a proposal to the Foundation by Professor Eric Buch, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria. Professor Buch says, “Over two years ago, I started seeing many medical students experiencing gaps in funding, which affected completion of their studies. I presented these concerns and how it could be alleviated to several institutions, including Discovery.”

Standard Bank has a strong existing presence in student loan management. On partnering with them, Maphai says, “They were as excited to be involved, and efficiently met all the operational requirements to ensure implementation for the 2016 student intake of medical students at University of Pretoria.” Zanele Mbere from Standard Bank says. “We provide support for different education programmes to spur social and economic growth and development. We could implement all the requirements on time for this particularly inspiring support programme, and we look forward to seeing this fund grow and help many medical students become the doctors of the future.”

“By offering additional or top-up financial assistance to South African medical students who need it, we can ensure the continued development of medical professionals who can in future provide the quality care our country envisions,” says Maphai. He also confirmed that although the Fund will initially support medical students from University of Pretoria only, it may expand access to more medical students and to medical faculties of other universities in South Africa over time, depending on the success of the initial roll out.

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