Human Resources OurHealth

Medical students cautioned as they head to Cuba

Written by Itumeleng Tau

The North West province has warned 35 medical students headed to Cuba that bad behaviour abroad will not be looked on kindly.

Rural nurse in training

Cuba is an international leader in public health and was recently named the first country in the world to eradicate mother-to-child HIV transmission (File photo)

MEC for Health Magome Masike recently hosted a farewell function for the prospective medical students in Orkney. He and previous graduates of the free Nelson Mandela / Fidel Castro Medical Training Programme made their expectations of the youth clear.

Masike told the students that the ability to adapt would be important to their success in Cuba. He urged students to stay strong and focused.

Dr Kagiso Pitso studied in Cuba and is now a successful North West doctor. Pitso warned students to focus on books not fiestas, or parties, and to respect their hosts.

“It is easy to get distracted in Cuba,” Pitso told OurHealth. “Every weekend there are parties called fiestas – Cubans know how to have fun.”

“Cubans are very poor but proud. They are very happy with who they are,” he added. “They are very friendly people. Don’t take advantage of that.”

Student representative Daniel Sebolao said he had read on Facebook and Twitter about South African medical students’ bad behaviour in Cuba and pledged that the North West group would band together to represent South Africa with pride.

In August, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo chastised South African students currently enrolled in the programme for allegedly spending more time preaching than studying.

Some set to become the first in family to go to university

As the group prepares to head to Cuba, some have already gotten a head start in tackling one of the programme’s biggest challenges: Learning medicine in Spanish.

Tsholofelo Rafapa, 19, is one of the students set to participate in the free Nelson Mandela / Fidel Castro Medical Training Programme.

[quote float= right]I am from a very poor family. Bongani will be the first in the family to become somebody important”

“I have already started teaching myself Spanish by reading lessons on the Internet,” said Rafapa, who has dreamed of being a doctor since she was five years old. “I would love to work in rural areas especially in my home town once I have finished my studies.”

Joining Rafapa is 19-year-old Bongani Nxamagele from Tigane township outside Klerksdorp. Bongani’s father, Joseph, said his son’s selection for the programme had left him speechless.

“I don’t know how to thank God,” said Joseph who described his son as a quiet boy who had always focused on school “I am from a very poor family. Bongani will be the first in the family to become somebody important.”

Masike also reminded the students that they must serve the rural communities in the North West after they are finished with their studies.

“If you don’t want to serve the rural communities of the North West province, who will serve your grandparents?” he asked students.

The North West Province has 470 medical students in Cuba, and Masike said that the province continued to make progress in addressing staff shortages.

About the author

Itumeleng Tau

Itumeleng Tau is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from Gauteng's Johannesburg Health District.