Limpopo health MEC advises Cuban medics not to do things the 'South African way'

Thirteen doctors from the Cuban medical brigade will be deployed in Limpopo from Tuesday.
Thirteen doctors from the Cuban medical brigade will be deployed in Limpopo from Tuesday.
Image: Alon Skuy

The Limpopo health department on Tuesday welcomed 13 Cuban doctors to the province, with health MEC Phophi Ramathuba saying they were relying on their expertise. 

The group comprised of eight family physicians, one epidemiologist, one biostatistician and three health technologists.

Ramathuba said the Cubans had come at the right time, adding that being a rural province, Limpopo had been struggling without epidemiologists and biostatisticians who are key in guiding the province on how best to approach the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We believe their presence will significantly boost our public health sector personnel capacity in the fight against the pandemic," Ramathuba said at a press conference held to welcome the doctors. 

She said they were encouraged by the fact that Cuba was always able to tackle difficult medical situations with minimal resources, and hoped the doctors could do the same in Limpopo.

The province has about 6-million residents, and around 92% of them depend on the stretched health system, Ramathuba said. 

"One issue I need to warn you about is that your predecessors who came here made the big mistake of being swallowed by the system instead of coming here and providing expertise. They started doing things the South African way," Ramathuba said. 

She said South Africa is running a curative health-care system which is unsustainable. Cuba, on the other hand, is running a preventative health-care system, and this is where South Africa needed help.  

Ramathuba highlighted how Cuba had been able to eradicate measles and malaria and even improve the country's life expectancy rate to around 90 years, adding that Cubans were inspiring.

"Don't be afraid to raise your views. This is Limpopo, where clinicians are given a chance to lead," she said, adding that politicians would not get in their way. 

The Cuban doctors will work alongside local health practitioners, including South African doctors who had studied in Cuba.

Ramathuba said the Cuban medics were not threat to the locals. 

"No one is here to take your jobs," said Ramathuba, stressing that there will never be enough doctors to tackle the coronavirus. She said the Cubans were simply brought in to augment to existing medics.

"If we don't win this, it will be my head that will be chopped.  When you see I am messing up, correct me," Ramathuba said. 

She highlighted that the key to killing the virus was quarantining people as they moved into new territory, regardless of whether or not they have tested positive for the virus.

In Limpopo, the epicentre of the virus seems to be the mining areas. Ramathuba had previously warned mines which had shut at the start of the lockdown to ensure they quarantined mineworkers for 14 days before allowing them to return to work. 

With basic education minister Angie Motshekga expected to announced the latest developments regarding the rest of the school year, Ramathuba hinted on Tuesday that the minister would announce the reopening of schools in the near future.

"Schools will be opening very soon. You will be looking at how you can advise the department of education," she said.

Ramathuba said the province was concerned about chronically ill patients who had stopped collecting their medication from local clinics and hospitals because they feared they would contract the virus there. 

She called on the Cuban doctors to not put their own lives at risk while they are deployed in the country. 

"Before attending to any patient, first protect yourself. The painful thing will be if there empty chairs on the day of your departure," she said.

"We are healthcare professionals and the most vulnerable, so protect yourself," she said. 

"Without personal protective equipment, do not attend to any patient. Protect your life first. Let's not be casual. Let's treat everyone as if they are Covid-19-positive," she said.

Limpopo currently has 93 coronavirus infections. The province has recorded three coronavirus-related fatalities. 


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