‘Culture is hard to break’: Kenya’s medical schools face a shortage of cadavers

Medical training is in demand, but hesitancy on body donation means students have little to work with, while an illicit trade in transplant organs flourishes

Scalpel in hand, Carl Mwangi, a first-year medical student at the University of Nairobi, slices through the brain tissue. “To figure out where the vessels are, you have to dig in deeper,” he says, excited to be dissecting a human brain for the first time. But if he wants to do more dissections, the aspiring neurosurgeon will have to secure one of only 10 places on the anatomy programme here.

Only postgraduate students and those specialising in anatomy are able to get hands-on dissection experience as Kenya’s oldest medical school grapples with a shortage of cadavers. Until recently, medical students would spend at least 250 hours on dissection in their first year. However, most students now learn through prosection – examining bodies that have already been cut open. Up to 12 students have to learn using one cadaver in anatomy class.

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