Health minister Zweli Mkhize says the remuneration of the Cuban doctors is actually a “saving” and that he may extend their deployment.
Business Day reports that Mkhize told Parliament that the state has thus far spent close to R120m on the salaries of 187 Cuban doctors who arrived in April to help in the response to COVID-19. Their deployment is scheduled to run until April 2021, costing the state R440m for the 12 months. Mkhize said the state was open to reviewing the deployment and possibly extending it beyond 12 months.
He said the remuneration of the Cuban specialists was actually a saving to SA because “even though they are qualified specialists in their field of study and performing duties independently in those fields”, they are remunerated at a lower level of medical officer.
“South Africa is also preparing for a possible resurgence or second wave (of COVID-19 infections) and deployment will be reviewed based on possible hot spots that are identified,” Mkhize said in a written reply in parliament to a question from the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The report says in April, the SA Medical Association (Sama) said there were plenty of unemployed and retired doctors in South Africa who could have been recruited by the government before it turned to Cuba. It said South Africa had more than 15,000 doctors in the private sector, most of whom wanted to be involved but did not have an entry portal.
Mkhize previously has criticised the controversy around the deployment of the Cuban Medical Brigade, which “has been with us through the worst of the Covid-19 surge”.
“They were there through the final preparations in May when we readied our infrastructure and rounded up training for medical staff. They were there when we rolled out mass testing in communities to stop the virus before it overwhelmed our health system.
“They were there as cases soared into the hundreds of thousands and it seemed as though we would run out of staff and beds. And now, as we return to some normalcy, while evading a second wave in cases, they continue to play a critical role in providing quality health services to our people, especially in areas where staff have come under immense pressure.
“When one considers this, it seems extraordinary that there are still South Africans who question the value of the skills, expertise and service that this brigade has brought during a time when we need as many hands on deck as we can possibly find.
Many have argued that the cost to the state outweighs the brigade’s contribution to our Covid-19 fight; I humbly submit that there is no cost too great for human life.”
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