‘Training medics in Cuba is costly and inefficient’

A DA member of the Portfolio Committee on Health, Haseena Ismail, makes the point that the government’s expensive collaboration with Cuba to train South African medical students is not in their best interests. In 2019, a parliamentary question by the DA revealed that it costs about double to train a doctor in Cuba than in South Africa. Also, only 2,617 students have graduated since the programme’s inception in 1996. Surely this is yet another ANC vanity project which cannot withstand the light of day? – Sandra Laurence

Cuban medical programme not the answer – Haseena Ismail

By Haseena Ismail*

In order to do proper oversight over the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration programme, the DA will request the annual reports from the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, as promised by him in answer [RNW3616] to one of our parliamentary questions (PQs).

The DA has recently submitted a host of written parliamentary questions regarding the programme – which has courted controversy for a number of years now.

What is concerning is the fact that recent answers from the Department of Health seem to follow a trend of simply providing information without a thought to their quality.

In 2019, a PQ by the DA revealed that it costs about double to train a doctor in Cuba than in South Africa. The Department’s most recent answer [RNW3712] states the cost as $2 000 per student for the preparatory year; $5 000 for the next 5 years of medical studies; and an annual stipend of $2 400 per student. However, the same part of the answer contains the following table:

LevelTuition FeesMeals & Acc.Ave. cost Med. Ins.StipendTOTAL
Preparatory$6000.00$6022$450$2400.00$14, 872.00
1st – 2nd Year$12, 500$6022$500$2400.00$21, 422.00
3rd – 4th Year$11, 500$6022$500$2400.00$20, 422.00
5th Year$13, 500$6022$600$2400.00$22, 522.00

It is also important to note that South African medical students studying in Cuba have to complete their studies at South African universities. This cost was standardised in 2018 with 2022-23 cost set at R277 641.54 per student.

It is crucial that members of parliament are provided with clear answers to PQs to ensure that effective oversight can be done.

In answer [RNW3716] to the DA’s question on audit investigations into the programme, the Minister stated, “There are no audit investigations we are aware of relating to the mismanagement or misspent of money for the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Collaboration Programme in the Department of Health.” However, the DA has been trying to gain access to a 2018/19 audit report regarding a number of contracts with students that were apparently null and void. Should the contracts be found legally non-binding, the students would be expected to repay their bursaries. [RNW3711]

The continuation of the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration programme does not seem to be in the best interest of the students. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, government left students in a precarious situation far from their families and with limited access to resources. These families were forced to provide suitcases with food and other necessities for their students stuck in Cuba.

And while the Department does provide support, it is only “from time to time” or during periods of tragedy, for instance the death of a student or family.

It is clear that the Cuban programme is not the answer to South Africa’s increasing shortage of doctors. Only 2 617 students have graduated since the programme’s inception in 1996.

  • Haseena Ismail, DA Member on the Portfolio Committee of Health.

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