PESHAWAR: The health experts have asked Pakistan Medical Commission to postpone holding of medical and dental college admission test (MDCAT) for the session 2020-21 to safeguard the candidates from getting infected with Covid-19.

However, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Regulations and Coordination Dr Faisal Sultan told Dawn that there was no plan to postpone MDCAT. Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), regulator of medical education in the country, has scheduled MDCAT for November 29.

“There is alternative to MDCAT assessment as well. PMC can authorise admissions on the basis of FSc and Matric score as was done in good old days,” said Dr Faisal.

He said that educational institutions could not open in January as that would be absolute peak of the pandemic. “By January, it will be a real Covid-19,” he warned.

Dr Faisal Sultan says there is no plan to postpone MDCAT

A senior physician said that it was very difficult to ensure adherence to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Covid-19 during the test to be held in all four provinces simultaneously.

“When the government has closed down educational institutions then why it can’t delay the MDCAT? Will the students be taking tests in closed halls which can spread the virus,” he questioned.

However, Dr Faisal said that the tests could be held safely by following SOP and wearing masks. “It is a two to three hours activity. Candidates will take test in many centres,” he added.

A physician at a teaching hospital said that it was next to impossible to make the teenagers appearing in MDCAT to follow the SOPs.

“The government has already banned indoor gatherings in wedding halls and is going to postpone or cancel the examinations. I believe the examination, to be held indoor in big halls is very risky,” he added.

Another physician said that MDCAT was a low risk one-time examination so it would not be harmful if SOPs were followed as chance of spread would be low.

“The purpose of all restrictions is to buy time till arrival of vaccine. No one can stop viral spread but can only slow it,” he said. He added that vaccine was effective and its arrival was few months away.

“We don’t know what kind of arrangements the PMC makes and if the candidates will follow SOPs. It is the first time that a centralised test for admission to medical colleges will take place,” he said.

He said that previously, the entrance tests were conducted under the supervision of the five admitting universities in the respective provinces. They had a lot of experience in holding the tests.

“Now, the admitting medical universities have no role in MDCAT, therefore, we fear it could be dangerous. Why the government has closed educational institutions and is holding the MDCAT,” he said.

He said that about 200,000 students would be appearing in MDCAT to compete for admission in 165 medical and dental colleges in the country.

He said that about 6,000 of them would be selected.

He said that on November 11, Khyber Medical University announced postponement of all the examinations including MBBS/BDS till January 10 and medical universities in other provinces were to follow the suit after the federal government’s directive regarding closure of educational institutions due to surge in Covid-19 cases so there seemed no logic to go ahead with MDCAT on November 29.

“Now there is no moral authority to proceed with the MDCAT. If proper arrangements are not in place and SOPs including social distancing, wearing face mask and hand hygiene aren’t followed, it can certainly increase the number of cases across the country exponentially,” said a public health expert.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2020

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