The medical students, who spent almost 7 years in Cuba studying, will spend the next 18 months finishing their studies at various universities across the country. They will then be placed in different hospitals to start their careers as doctors.
The returning students are part of the 2885 South African medical students currently in Cuba at various levels of study. A total of 590 doctors have qualified from the training programme since it started in 1996, while 98 students are doing their final year at South African medical schools.
Speaking at a welcoming ceremony at OR Tambo International airport, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the Cuban-trained doctors would help drive the NHI programme.
“The National Health Insurance, at its heartbeat, is going to be primary healthcare,” Motsoaledi said. The students would be the main force behind the programme, he said.
The chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, said: “I am aware of ongoing engagements with the Department of Health and universities. I am hopeful provision has been made to accommodate them.”
The National Department of Health announced last month that it had decided to downsize its Cuba-South Africa doctor programme.
The programme ran for over 22 years, and has been criticised by the opposition and those who fought for placements at local medical schools. They say the programme was one of the reasons the department had not increased the intake of medical students in universities across the country.
The lack of facilities and places available at local institutions led to students being sent to study in Cuba. They spend five years in medical school in Cuba before returning here to finish their training, which takes between 12 and 18 months.
Western Cape MEC for Health Nomafrench Mbombo said: “Although the Western Cape government did not participate in sending students to Cuban medical school, the provincial government is committed to assisting the medical schools in the province in a partnership with the national ministry to provide additional clinical training on the provincial platform to these returning students.”