Cuban-trained doctors pioneers of state healthcare efforts, says MEC

KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo with some of the 13 medical graduates from KwaZulu-Natal. Photos by Themba Mngomezulu/KZN Department of Health.

KWAZULU-NATAL Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, has described the scores of Cuba-trained medical students as pioneers of government’s efforts to re-engineer primary healthcare in the country. 70 medical students (13 from KZN, and 57 from various parts of the country) were conferred their medical degrees after studying in Cuba for six years and finishing at various South African universities, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dhlomo said the success and impact of the partnership with Cuba had drawn the attention of the Institute for Global Health Innovation – Imperial College, London, who recently invited a South African delegation to attend a conference titled: Human Resources For Health And Economic Growth – Learning From The Cuban Experience In Medical Education. “The reason why governments in developing countries such as ours and the Angolans and many others hold Cuba in such high regard is because of the high quality medical training the Cubans offer. Their approach to healthcare is different in that it promotes disease prevention instead of focusing on cure, which is unsustainable,” he said.

Dhlomo also lauded the Mandela Fidel Castro Medical training programme, saying that since its inception, it had enabled South Africa to begin to address the shortage of doctors in the country by sending young aspirant doctors from poor communities for medical training in Cuban universities, while also recruiting some Cuban doctors to local shores.

There are currently 2885 South African medical students in Cuba in various levels of study. No fewer than 590 doctors have already qualified from the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical training programme, while 98 students are doing their final year in South African medical schools. South African medical students who study in Cuba spend a year learning Spanish; five years of academic medical studies; 18 months of being integrated into the South African medical health system (South Africa has a different disease profile compared to Cuba); as well as one year of internship.

This high-level graduation ceremony was attended by, among others, deputy minister Dr Joe Phaahla, his Excellency: Cuban Ambassador, Carlos Fernandez de Cossion; Deputy Minister of Health, Republic of Cuba, Dr Ileana Morales, and academics. Dr Phaahla said the programme was achieving a number of critical objectives in supporting the transformation of health in South Africa. “South African medical graduates returning from Cuba have proven their competence in skills that are essential to primary health care, particularly with a focus on the social determinants of health. These skills are essential to ensure that we strengthen the re-engineering of primary health care,” Phaahla said.

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