MEC for health in KwaZulu-Natal Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo congratulates doctors who studied in Cuba at their graduation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal yesterday. They are (from left) Bongani Mkhize, Jabulani Mbazima, Siyabonga Ncgongwane and Sanele Madela. Picture by Themba Mngonezulu.

Lungelo Mkamba

AFTER seven years studying in Cuba, 25 South African doctors have returned home, and they celebrated their graduation at a ceremony at the University of KwaZulu-Natal yesterday.

The graduates are a group of 282 medical students from poor backgrounds who successfully completed their studies through the South Africa-Cuban health co-operation agreement.

Cuban academics and medical specialists are in Durban for a week to discuss joint medical training programmes and to celebrate 15 years of close ties.

Speaking at the ceremony, vice-chancellor Prof Malegapuru Makgoba thanked the Cuban government for its contribution to South Africa and for championing the principles of justice, dignity and freedom.

The director-general of health, Precious Matsoso, said the South African health system recognised the challenges and the importance of medical training, and she praised parents for sending their children to a country they “don’t know”.

Daisy Makola, of Limpopo, left her husband to depart for Cuba six years ago. She explained that it was difficult adapting to a new home and leaving her husband and family behind.

“The food was very different from South Africa’s. I missed my husband a lot, but we spoke on the phone regularly,” she said.

“I work in Limpopo, in the rural areas, because the primary health care is needed there. It feels very good to graduate today and my husband is delighted I am back.”

Students train free in Cuba for five years and return to South Africa to complete a one-year clinical training programme to orientate themselves with the South African health system.

Shane Busakwe, a graduate of the programme, said he learnt to speak Spanish, which was now the language that he was “most comfortable” communicating in.

Busakwe said the problem in South Africa was that doctors were trained to “cure”. Cuba trained its doctors to “prevent”.

“The most important thing about being a doctor is to treat every patient like a family member,” he said.