More than 500 South African medical students who recently graduated from Cuban universities are expected to help address challenges that continue to plague the country’s health care system.
The 594 South African medical graduates were part of the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration Programme. The graduation ceremony took place at the University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi campus.
The objective of the programme is to alleviate the shortage of doctors in South Africa, especially in the historically disadvantaged communities, as well as to improve human resource capacity and strengthen the healthcare system in the country.
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla says the programme opened access to advanced training in the medical profession for disadvantaged students who would otherwise not be admitted in most of the South African medical schools because of their socio-economic background.
“The demand of doctors and other healthcare workers remains a huge issue in South Africa’s health care system. The system and our conditions as a country require those trained in the new health associated security paradigm and preventative approach to strengthen the primary health care system,” the minister says.
From 1997 to date, the collaboration has produced 2 556 doctors, some of whom have become specialists.
Annually, since 2018, it has been producing more than 600 doctors, a milestone that exceeds South Africa’s local production of medical doctors.
Minister Phaahla was joined by Health Deputy Minister Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, Deputy Minister of Health in the Republic of Cuba Dr Luis Fernando LF Navarro, the acting vice chancellor and principal of the University of Pretoria, Prof BT Maharaj; as well as provincial MECs for health and representatives from the University of Havana in Cuba.
This group of doctors come from eight different provinces, with North West and KwaZulu-Natal having 126 graduates, Gauteng 113, Limpopo 86, Eastern Cape 83, Northern Cape 28, Free State 21, and Mpumalanga 12 graduates.
“The current socio-economic conditions and environmental factors in South Africa requires the health sector to remain vigilant and maintain focus on infectious diseases as they have been shown to be the emerging threats,” says the minister.
Part of the benefits that come with the programme is that the South Africa-Cuba universities collaboration in the academic discipline, especially in health, involves the sharing of information and exchanges in research.
“When the graduates return home, they get integrated into the South African medical schools for quality assurance of their qualifications,” the minister explains.
Afterwards, they get offered places in the internship and community service programmes.