South Africa, Cuba strengthen health cooperation
22 September 2016
Pretoria - South African Deputy Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla met his Cuban counterpart, Dr Marcia Cobas Ruiz, to evaluate existing bilateral agreements in the field of health.
The two visited Tembisa Hospital in Gauteng’s East Rand as part of a programme aimed at strengthening health cooperation between South Africa and Cuba.
Deputy Minister Phaahla said there are approximately 900 fourth-year medical students from South Africa who are studying in Cuba, who are expected to return to the country in their final year in 2018.
He said Cuba and South Africa’s bilateral agreements date as far back as 1996 when the Health Ministry, through a bilateral agreement with the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba, initiated cooperation in the health field.
The cooperation, known as the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro Collaboration, consists of three elements, including the undergraduate training programme; recruitment and exchange of health professionals and academics; and exchange in biotechnological and innovation in health.
The two countries this year commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro Medical Doctors’ Programme.
Deputy Minister Phaahla said the programme was established with the aim to address the shortage of health professionals in South Africa, particularly in underserved and rural areas.
“South Africa has mostly enjoyed the benefits more than Cuba so far,” said the Deputy Minister.
He said the programme provides opportunities for young South Africans from rural and disadvantaged communities to be trained in the field of medicine. He said the annual intake and output of qualified doctors per annum from South African medical schools is inadequate in numbers.
“There are about 450 Cuban doctors working in many parts of South Africa… In Gauteng alone, there are more than 50 of them,” he said.
At the moment, the Cuban doctors who work in South Africa are on a three-year contract. Dr Yeral Qintanal and his colleague, Dr Leticia Perez, arrived in South Africa in July this year to render medical services in Tembisa Hospital.
Qintanal said for now, they are just learning how things are done in South Africa.
“We do not have any specific programmes for now, but we are hoping to implement some of the programmes that we have in Cuba that are not necessarily done in South Africa,” said Qintanal, adding that more focus should be placed on prenatal and antenatal care.
Perez also said sometimes pregnant women have complications due to not receiving antenatal care services.
“We want to prevent such complications and increase mortality rate,” she said.
Deputy Minister Cobas Ruiz, who also interacted with some of doctors from her country working in South Africa, said Cuba has similar cooperation with about 30 African countries, benefiting thousands of doctors who save lives in their countries of origin.
She said there are also thousands of Cuban doctors deployed across Africa.