South African Medical Association objects to imported Cuban doctors

Pretoria – The South African Medical Association (Sama) has criticised the government for bringing in just over 200 Cuban medical experts to help South Africa’s fight against the coronavirus, arguing that the government should have exhausted local expertise first.

Sama chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said South Africa has many public and private health specialists, family physicians and epidemiologists who would have heeded the president’s call for assistance during this very challenging period.

“Retired doctors can be brought back into the service delivery system – even for a short time. They can also mentor younger doctors who lack the necessary experience and skills.

“Only when we have exhausted all our internal human resources should a consultative process between Sama, the Department of Health and the Presidency been initiated to bring the Cuban specialists to South Africa,” Coetzee said.

She added that Sama finds it “unacceptable that silo approaches” have been followed in the decision to bring the Cuban specialists to South Africa.

Sama will be requesting a meeting with Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize “to express its unhappiness on the processes and principles involved”.

Coetzee said Sama was not against roping in the Cuban Brigade, but added that the government did not consult all stakeholders.

“While we are not averse to the so-called Cuban Brigade assisting us, we feel strongly that the principle of not engaging with Sama – as the biggest representative body of doctors in the country – is flawed and wrong,” Coetzee said.

Sama insisted that in light of the current poor economic environment in South Africa, the money spent on bringing the Cuban specialists to South Africa would have been better spent on first employing local doctors who have the necessary skills and experience to drive this process, especially in rural areas.

“There are many unemployed doctors in South Africa and many community service medical officers have still not been placed. In addition, many private practitioners have indicated their willingness to assist,” Sama said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday welcomed the Cuban health professionals who arrived in Pretoria to support ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus across South Africa.

The 217 Cuban health specialists and workers landed in South Africa on Monday as the country commemorated Freedom Day.

“Their arrival follows a request made by President Cyril Ramaphosa to President Díaz Canel Bermúdez of Cuba. The experts will support efforts being made in South Africa to contain the spread of Covid-19,” the Presidency said in a statement.

The group consists of experts in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics and public health; family physicians to guide interventions through door-to-door testing and to assist local healthworkers in health promotion and disease surveillance at the community level; healthcare technology engineers to assist in maintaining the inventory, deployment and repair of aged medical equipment; and experts to provide technical assistance working with local experts. – African News Agency