Motsoaledi’s Cuban cure for the Western Cape

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South Africa’s Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to “rescue” poor Western Cape medical students who are the only ones in the country to be deprived of government funds for studies in Cuba. While all other provinces spend millions of rands to train local doctors in Cuba, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s government withdrew from the programme in 2012 because it believed it was “ineffective and costly”.

Motsoaledi said: “In the Western Cape, it’s an ideological thing; they made it known openly they don’t like Cuba. They believe Cuba is inferior. According to them, everything that is from the West is perfect. He said many locals believed that Cuban training was weak because it focused on the prevention of diseases while South Africa’s system was aimed at training doctors to cure people.

According to a Sunday Times report, Motsoaledi confirmed that he had started “preliminary discussions” with the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, to take over the administration of the Cuban doctor initiative so that Western Cape students could also benefit. Motsoaledi said his department was responsible for negotiations on the number of students that could be sent to Cuba for annual training.

“The programme is for poor students who, according to the standards of South Africa, they will tell you, ‘This one doesn’t qualify. We need people with eight As or six As.’ I deal with students who phone me with five As who can’t get into medical school in South Africa. Cuba will look into those students.”

There are strict admission requirements at South Africa’s eight medical schools, but those who study in Cuba need only a minimum of 50% in English, maths, physical science and life science. At least 3 270 medical students have gone to Cuba since the agreement between the two countries was signed in 1997. So far, 442 have qualified and are working in rural areas. Students are sent to Cuba because they have “enough capacity”, according to Motsoaledi.

This year, six medical schools enrolled only 1,302 first-year students in medicine. According to figures made available, the number and costs of students chosen to study in Cuba this year include: Gauteng: 120 (almost R28.6m); Northern Cape: 30 (R6m); North West: 30 (R5.3m); and Mpumalanga: 10 (R900,000). The North West said that it cost almost R900,000 to keep one student in Cuba for six years – the length of training at medical schools like Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sagua de la Grande and the Havana School of Medical Sciences. They then complete their training with a further two years’ study in South Africa.

Motsoaledi said: “In the Western Cape, it’s an ideological thing; they made it known openly they don’t like Cuba. They believe Cuba is inferior. According to them, everything that is from the West is perfect. He said many locals believed that Cuban training was weak because it focused on the prevention of diseases while South Africa’s system was aimed at training doctors to cure people.

Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said that training doctors locally “makes better financial sense” while equipping them with “appropriate South African experience”. She said the Cuban programme did not meet the province’s demands for producing qualified doctors. “We have signed a multilateral agreement with four universities in the Western Cape to identify prospective students from rural areas and ensure access to university faculties.” Her department had also initiated a process with the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch to boost enrolment.

“The allegations that the Western Cape government has rejected the Cuban doctors’ programme because of ideological reasons are unfounded,” she said. “The decision was made because this programme does not give us value for money.’

Professor Martin Veller, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, said local medical schools were “basically ignoring what (students) have learnt in Cuba and are trying to mould them into what current South African medical students do”. Returning students were put through an 18-month course “without really focusing on their strengths”.

Full Sunday Times report on PressReader[/url]


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