The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, to address the continued plights of South African medical students living in Cuba. This follows a revelation that his Department will request that parents of students living in Cuba fill a 23kg bag of necessities which would be transported via a military flight to Cuba.
The Nelson-Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration Programme was established to give students from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to study in Cuba on full scholarships.
Earlier this year, I made direct contact with these students who expressed their concerns around the chronic problems faced year on year.
The issues communicated with us include the following: increased cost of living due to Cuba’s dire economic circumstances; difficulty accessing transport; poor quality of food; doubling of food prices due to COVID-19; terrible living conditions; little to no access of key toiletries such as sanitary items; and stipend remaining the same over the last 10 years, which cannot cover all living costs.
On the 4th of March the DA addressed these students’ concerns to the Minister during a question session in Parliament, and on the 10th of March, in light of the issues raised by the DA at a mini plenary sitting regarding Cuban doctors, the Department of Health (DoH) finally made contact with these students to address their concerns.
Their solution after months of these students seeking assistance, is to request that their parents fill a 23kg bag of toiletries, groceries or anything the students might need, and this bag would then be transported via a military flight to Cuba.
The issue with this is that these students largely come from unprivileged and poor backgrounds. Many come from poor families who would not have the necessary funds to fill a 23kg back for their child, who so desperately needs these crucial items.
This request is therefore unfair and seemingly an attempt by government to shift the responsibility away from itself.
The DA suggests that government review this programme as it can clearly not care adequately for the participating students who are left to face a dire situation on foreign soil. Instead of spending more money on a programme that does not adequately prepare medical students for South African realities, maybe government should use this money to invest into more and better medical institutions at home.
Issued by the DA