Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health is to set up Cuban medical schools in the province to boost its delivery of primary health services, a key feature of the country’s new National Health Insurance (NHI) plan.
Making the announcement at this week’s Provincial Consultative Health Forum in Pietermaritzburg, KZN Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said a departmental delegation would visit Cuba later this month to explore the options.
“We know that as a country we are not producing enough doctors. The demand far exceeds our current output of doctors each year,” Dhlomo told conference delegates, which included senior government officials.
“We have only eight medical schools serving 52 million of our population while Cuba has 22 medical schools with a population of 11.204 million.
“With access to our own medical schools limited, it makes sense to bring the Cuban model here
Speaking to the Daily News at the conference, department head Dr Sibongile Zungu described the plan as a “step in the right direction”.
On the cost and how the model would be funded, she said the initiative would be a joint venture between KZN and the Cuban government, “so that it’s cost-effective for both parties”.
“The cost of setting up a Cuban medical school here is far cheaper than the cost of subsidising a medical student locally,” Zungu said.
“The reality is that the Cuban model reduces and prevents diseases through a primary health care approach which is the cornerstone of our new health plan so it makes sense to train doctors and nurses to focus on this approach, which is relevant to our country’s health needs.”
Zungu described the South African system as being “largely curative – where we treat, rather than prevent, diseases...”
Highly sophisticated hospitals with specialised equipment further entrenched this curative approach, which the country could not afford or sustain considering the demand for basic health care, she said.
“It costs us about R1 billion to set up a hospital, yet we can save a lot more and reinvest the same money by re-channelling our resources on the prevention of diseases,” Zungu explained.
She said some nursing sub-campuses were also being reviewed for possible conversion into Cuban medical schools.
A medical partnership between South Africa and Cuba has been in place since the early 1990s. About 100 students are sent to study medicine in the Caribbean island country each year.
The students receive full scholarships for the duration of their studies.
These are funded by the SA Department of Health at a total cost for the six-year duration, which works out to about R1.1 million. This includes a monthly stipend.
Requirements for admission into the programme are strict. Students must show academic excellence, come from poor backgrounds, and be prepared to work in the public sector on graduation – especially in rural areas where the need for their services are greatest.
Approached for comment last night, a spokesman for the SA Medical Association, Mzukisi Grootboom, said they were not aware of the department’s plan to set up Cuban medical schools in the province.
But plans for 2013 would continue, he said.
“Next year, South Africa will send 1 000 medical students to Cuban medical schools, and this will be funded by the provinces,” Grootboom said.
“The bulk of these students will come from KZN.” – Additional reporting by Laea Medley - Daily News