Durban – The 187 Cuban doctors who were deployed to South Africa to help the country fight the Covid-19 pandemic may have been forced to do so.
The is according to the US Department of State who made the allegation in its latest 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report for South Africa.
The report said that medical workers are only paid a fraction of their salaries while working in South Africa.
“The Cuban government may have forced its citizens to work in South Africa, including at least 187 Cuban doctors and medical staff sent to all provinces to combat the pandemic,” the report said.
“These agreements typically require payment directly to the Government of Cuba, which gives the medical workers between 5 and 15 per cent of the salary, only after they completed the mission and returned home,” the report added.
When approached for comment, government spokesperson, Phumla Williams referred IOL to the Department of International Relations and International Cooperation (Dirco).
Clayson Monyela, the spokesman for the Dirco, said he did not understand why the US would attach human trafficking to an issue that is purely a bilateral agreement between the government of Cuba and South Africa.
He said he planned to “consult” on the issue and get back to IOL, but had not done so at the time of publishing.
South Africa’s reliance on Cuban workers in the medical and engineering fields has come under criticism from opposition parties and labour organisations, who have accused the government of ignoring sufficiently skilled South Africans.
In June, it emerged that the Department of Health was spending R83-million a year on the Cuban medical brigade brought in to help fight the pandemic.
In a written response to parliamentary questions, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the 119-strong medical brigade has specialised expertise that was limited in the country.
Kubayi-Ngubane said the department signed a government-to-government agreement that included work exchange and/or employment agreements with Cuba.
She said the group of Cuban medical doctors was recruited to strengthen the health service in rural and under-served areas, from 2001 to 2019.
“The group currently consists of 106 medical professionals who are still performing medical duties in the country under the agreement.”
Kubayi-Ngubane said a team of 119 Cuban medical experts and health professionals with experience in planning, execution and management of the public health response have been contracted from May 2021 to April 2022, with R83 030 688 in remuneration costs.
Last year, Minister Zweli Mkhize, who responded to parliamentary questions, said up to R2.4 million was the estimated salary costs for 187 Cuban health professionals and medical experts for the 2020 and 2021 calendar years.
Kubayi-Ngubane said the medical brigade performed specialised expertise services as epidemiologists, biostatisticians, public health specialists, family physicians and health-care technology engineers, and they each had more than 10 years’ experience.