Hunger strike in Cuba
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    SA-Cuba deal ‘on track’

    Apr 4 2013 10:42PM

    SA-Cuba deal 'on track'

    Zodidi Mhlana

    Despite the heavy criticism it has attracted from some quarters, the

    South African and Cuban medical training programme is here to stay.

    That's the word from the department on the programme aimed at

    tackling the doctor shortage and assisting in the overhauling of the

    healthcare system.

    "South Africa has a critical shortage of doctors and as part of

    government's aim of increasing the number of doctors, the South African

    and Cuban health ministries signed a collaborative SA-Cuba Agreement.

    "The agreement is assisting South Africa to use the capacity that Cuba

    has in the training of medical doctors.

    "SA and Cuba entered into the health agreement with the aim of

    bolstering South African human resource requirements by allowing South

    African students to in Cuba.

    "Yes, the agreement is achieving its objectives as 357 doctors have so

    far qualified in Cuba. They are practising in health facilities in South

    Africa," health department spokeperson Joe Maila said.

    A total of 1344 medical students are studying medicine in Cuba.

    The naysayers against the Cuban training programme have become more

    vocal after six South African students studying medicine in the

    Caribbean country returned home citing unhappiness over conditions of

    study there.

    They were demanding an increase in their monthly stipend and changes in

    their diet.

    The drop-outs were part of a group of 187 students who took part in a

    hunger strike and boycotted classes in February.

    They were demanding their monthly stipend be increased from $200 (R1860)

    to $700.

    The SA government spends about R500000 per student over six years for a

    course that includes language (Spanish), medical training and living

    expenses in Cuba.

    The programme, which has produced almost 400 doctors since its inception

    more than 15 years ago, will also assist with the roll-out of the

    National Health Insurance (NHI), the department said.

    "It will further strengthen the health ministry's strategic

    interventions in the implementation of the NHI and the overhauling of

    the health care system by refocusing on the primary health care," Maila


    Some of the critics of the programme have said that it should be

    scrapped as it was producing "second class doctors".

    But the department has dismissed the calls. "Those who are calling for

    scrapping are doing so from a position of ignorance. South Africa needs

    preventative medicine to deal with the quadruple burden of disease. We

    value Cuban training because it emphasises primary health care,

    encouraging doctors to work on preventing diseases and on the promotion

    of health."

    The department added that the country's eight medical institutions were

    unable to produce adequate doctors.

    "Their annual output has remained constant at about 1200 per year,

    despite population growth and the challenge of the burden of disease,"

    it said.

    Half of the medical graduates prefer working overseas or joining the

    private sector, according to Africa Health Placements.

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