Call to end KZN/Cuba medical student training

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The training of KwaZulu-Natal medical students in Cuba should be revisited said opposition politicians, as KZN Health looks to slash more than R1bn in overspending.

The Mercury reports that this emerged at a debate initiated by the National Freedom Party in the legislature in Pietermaritzburg.

In his motion, NFP’s Erickson Zungu called for the revisiting of the programme, which he described as unproductive. “Government needs to invest in increasing the capacity of medical schools throughout the country,” Zungu said. However, during the debate some MPLs suggested the programme had been scrapped after an announcement by the department at a recent meeting of the finance portfolio committee. Finance portfolio committee chair, Sipho “KK” Nkosi, confirmed there was “something like the reviewing” of the department’s programmes. Nkosi said the department had informed the committee of plans to review several programmes, including the student doctors programme.

The report says the financial difficulties faced by the Cuban training programme were exacerbated by the declining rand-dollar exchange rate. Nkosi’s explanation of the Health Department’s overspend is corroborated by a report the department presented to the health portfolio committee meeting last month. The report had put the overspend in this financial year at R1.5bn. According to the report, the exchange rate effect on the Cuban doctors programme was R55.5m.

Meanwhile, the NFP said the programme was a waste of taxpayers’ money. “We have the best medical schools,” Zungu said. According to the report, the Democratic Alliance’s Imram Keeka agreed the doctors’ programme was proving expensive. “There is no money to sustain it.” However, Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda said the programme was “well-thought” and here to stay. He said KZN had 789 medical students in Cuba and 85 qualified doctors through this programme.

The overspend in the KZN Health Department is projected at R1.5bn in the 2016-17 financial year, according to the department’s report to the legislature. It listed R55.5m in the bursary payments for the Cuban doctors programme as one for the “pressure areas”. Others are the R715.3m in above-budget wage agreement and pay progression, R162.2m in buildings and accruals, R76.4m in property-related payments, R159.3m in medico-legal claims, R58.3m in NHLS accruals and R155m with the effect of the weakening rand on medicine and medical supplies.

The report says there is also R31.2m for mobile hospital units, R26.9m in outsourced service accruals for medical waste and patient nutrition, R11.3m for resuscitation equipment at community health centres and R10.9m for medical equipment for clinics.

The Mercury report

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