Sending students to Cuba to train as doctors was an expensive exercise for KwaZulu-Natal, and the province was now considering opening more medical schools and importing Cuban lecturers.
Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo told the health portfolio committee at the provincial legislature in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday that next week he would lead a team to Angola on a mission to establish how the country managed to open medical schools with lecturers from Cuba.
“It is more convenient if students are trained at home,” he said.
South Africa first sent students to Cuba in 1995 to address the shortage of doctors.
Despite the heavy criticism it has attracted from some quarters, the South African and Cuban medical training programme is here to stay.
That’s the word from the health department on the programme aimed at tackling the doctor shortage and assisting in the overhauling of the healthcare system.
“South Africa has a critical shortage of doctors and as part of government’s aim of increasing the number of doctors, the South African and Cuban health ministries signed a collaborative SA-Cuba Agreement.
“The agreement is assisting South Africa to use the capacity that Cuba has in the training of medical doctors.
INTENT on finding a way to dramatically increase the number of South African doctors, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is investigating the scope for training the next generation of medics in Russia, he said on Wednesday.
Dr Motsoaledi has already persuaded South Africa’s eight medical schools to increase their student numbers, but they have limited scope to do so because they are constrained by funding and by the number of staff available to supervise students in hospitals and clinics.
Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize says a group of medical students who left the province for medical training in Cuba will come back and assist with the rollout of the National Health Insurance (NHI).
Mkhize was speaking at King Shaka International Airport at a farewell function for 115 students who were selected to study medicine in Cuba as part of the South Africa/Cuba Medical Training Programme started 16 years ago.
“Many of our people received military training in Cuba as we fought against the apartheid government. Now that we have defeated apartheid, our main focus is the fight against the burden of diseases. These students have been selected from all districts in the province with the assistance of mayors and District Aids Councils.
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi rubs his forehead and repositions himself in his chair, leaning forward as if to make sure the point come across clearly: “I will say it upfront. There is no way National Health Insurance (NHI) will function anywhere if the public health system is not functioning well.”
The health minister has been on a long overdue mission to transform South Africa’s health system since he took office more than three years ago.
Department of Health would guarantee the payment of private general practitioners (GPs) who worked in public clinics in the National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot districts, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said yesterday.
The NHI envisions private practitioners being involved in public health institutions, and this is the first time that Dr Motsoaledi has fleshed out the proposal and guaranteed the payment of such medical officers.
The thinking is that private sector health resources will improve referral systems, as well as increase patients’ confidence in primary healthcare facilities.
Dr Motsoaledi was addressing journalists on the sidelines of the South African Medical Association’s (Sama ’s) conference.
Academic hospitals should be centrally controlled, and 1000 doctors will start training in Cuba later this year, the ANC commission on health policy resolved in Midrand on Friday.
"These are central assets which [offer a] service across provinces... these are hospitals attached to universities," said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who is a member of the health and education commission.
He said it made sense to move control of these hospitals from the provinces to the national health department, as university training was a national competency.
This would also resolve the problem of referring patients across provincial borders.
Cabinet has noted the signing of an agreement between the South African and Cuban Ministries of Health.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and his Cuban counterpart Roberto Morales Ojeda signed the collaborative agreement in Pretoria last week.
"This agreement will enable South Africa to use the capacity that Cuba has in the training of medical doctors. Through this new agreement, we will now be able to increase the number of students who will be deployed to Cuba for medical training," said Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Collins Chabane, on Friday.
FOURTEEN years ago, Kholekile Shasha joined SA’s nascent doctor training programme in Cuba, unaware of how controversial the state-sponsored initiative would turn out to be.
He came from a poor family, and had finished high school in the Eastern Cape with exam results just shy of the grades needed to study medicine in SA. He leaped at the chance of a free education in Cuba.
"I was disadvantaged in terms of colour, and access to education and finance," he says.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has turned to Cuba to get the extra doctors and specialists needed to put the ambitious plans for National Health Insurance (NHI) into play.
He signed a co-operation deal with Cuban counterpart Roberto Morales Ojeda on Friday to raise the number of South African medical students training on the island and bring more Cuban-qualified doctors to work in SA.
"Cubans are trained in the community… on how to promote health and prevent diseases," said Dr Motsoaledi. "If you look at NHI, we want to emphasise primary healthcare (preventing disease), with doctors who work in the community," he said.