Cuba-SA doctor course ends

The Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical progrmme has been put on a three year hold while the South African government sources funds to upkeep the 22 year long initiative.
The Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical progrmme has been put on a three year hold while the South African government sources funds to upkeep the 22 year long initiative.
Image: File

The 208 Eastern Cape medical students remaining in Cuba will be the last graduates of the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Programme from the province, as the cash-strapped health department has temporarily suspended the programme.

This means there will be no new intake for the programme beyond 2022 when the group that was sent to Cuba in 2016 returns home. The Eastern Cape’s 10 students sent to study medicine in 2015 will return in July 2021.

Following health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi’s announcement that the programme will be suspended for three years, Eastern Cape health MEC Helen Sauls-August on Thursday said this was due to budgetary constraints.

Sauls-August was speaking to the Dispatch at a welcoming ceremony for 60 Eastern Cape Cuban-trained doctors. The fifth year students, better known as the Fidel Castro Nelson Mandela fellows, were welcomed by Sauls-August and premier Phumulo Masualle at a glitzy gala dinner at the East London Industrial Development Zone.

Those who have returned home will now finish their studies at South African universities.

“The biggest challenge facing the country is the fiscal constraints. We are living in an environment that is severely constraint in that respect. For the continuation of the programme we must look at a different funding model, how we can adequately address this,” August said.

So what is the future of the 208 remaining students in different phases with the uncertainty of budget?

“We have made a commitment to ensure that the remaining students complete the five years, so those who are in the first year must continue until the fifth year. In that process we are working with national treasury and the Cuban government so that they come up with a model that is more sustainable.”

The programme started in 1996 following talks between then presidents of the two countries, Castro and Mandela.

The programme has not been without its challenges as trainee doctors embarked on hunger strikes while others pretended to be prophets.

 

Mandiluve Xwazi, 25, from Ndofela village in Sterkspruit said she was impressed with how the Cubans did things.

“It is one country economically blocked by northern America so resources are limited. Cuba taught us how to use the little you have to get the best out of it.”

Cuban-trained Mlamli Dotye, 26, from Mbizana will now complete his remaining two years training at the University of Pretoria.

“I really enjoyed my stay there.”

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