When Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the arrival of 217 Cuban health specialists to complement South African’s multi-pronged approach against the spread of Covid-19, critics such as the South African Medical Association, called the move “premature”  and “part of a political drama”. Others believed that the deployment of Cuban doctors would be at the cost of South African doctors 

Butafter 14 days of quarantine, the Cuban doctors are being deployed to various parts of the country, and as Professor Binu Luke says, the healthcare professionals are not here to “take away employment opportunities for locals”. Luke is head of Academic and Clinical Services at the Tshepong Hospital Complex in Klerksdorp, North West. He believes the Cuban doctors will provide much-needed assistance when the virus peaks in the province. 

“The team of 13 healthcare professionals are not here to take away any employment opportunities for locals but to ensure that those who are already working in the healthcare sector are not overwhelmed when we reach peak of Covid-19 infections.”

Luke goes on to explain that Covid-19 is not the only disease we are fighting as a nation. 

“All our focus cannot be on Covid-19 alone. We must remember that there are other infectious diseasessuch as tuberculosis, which troubles us and claims many lives annually. The Covid-19 pandemic has added another burden on our health facilities, and we will need all the help we can get including assistance from foreign doctors,” Luke tells Health-e News. 

Most of the 13 Cuban support staff sent to the North West will be based in the Bojanala Platinum District, which is the epicentre of the virus in the province. The doctors are currently being orientated on appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), accommodation allocation and tools of trade. 

“We should remember that Cuban doctors have been working in our country for over 20 years. Fighting the pandemic should be seen as a team effort because we cannot win this war on our own. The Cuban doctors have signed 12month contracts and they will leave once their work is done. They are here to assist our local doctors with the virus as some of them focus on more severe cases in other wards,” adds Luke.

Wide range of expertise 

The group of Cuban medical experts will support efforts being made in South Africa to contain the spread of Covid– 19 in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics and public health. 

According to a statement released by the Presidency, Cuban family physicians are set to guide interventions through door-to-door testing and to assist local health workers in health promotion and disease surveillance at the community level. The statement also notes that Cuban healthcare technology engineers will assist in maintaining the inventory, deployment and repair of aged medical equipment, and that some will provide technical assistance working with local experts. 

Last year, South Africa and Cuba celebrated 25 years of mutually beneficial diplomatic relations. Over 732 South Africans have received medical training in Cuba and qualified as doctors since the establishment of the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro medical training programme in 1997.  

 Covid-19 beds increase 

According to Luke, Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, in partnership with the private sector, will be able to increase the number of beds available for Covid-19 related hospital stays. Westvaal Hospital in Orkney and Duff Scott Hospital in Stillfontein will assist the North West health department with about 500 beds. Tshepong Hospital has allocated 160 beds for Covid-19 care with seven beds already available for intensive care. The number of intensive care beds at Tshepong will soon increase to 29. – Health-e News