International medical graduates outraged over arrival of Cuban doctors in SA
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They were further angered at the recent arrival of 217 Cuban doctors - at an estimated cost of R440 million - depriving them of an opportunity to serve the country.
Advocate Rene Govender of the SA Internationally Trained Health Professionals Association (SAITHPA) said most issues dated as far back as 2018.
Govender said that the HPCSA had been “unsupportive and obstructive” to the group of more than 300 graduates by refusing them the opportunity to write board examinations.
It is alleged that some of those who had attempted to register for the exams were told they were not eligible or that they could not be accommodated due to a limit of 120 applicants a year.
In March last year, applicants who had missed the 120 cap and were awaiting their turn to write exams in September were informed that their applications had been deemed non-compliant as their chosen universities, mostly Chinese, had not been evaluated by the relevant medical and dental boards.
Subsequently the SAITHPA threatened legal action on behalf of its members, and graduates were permitted to write the board exams in March 2020 and May 2020.
However, the HPCSA backtracked on the decision. It is alleged that graduates who had been given an opportunity to write the 2020 Practical Board Exam in January had still not received their results, and therefore could not register for internship in the mid-year cycle.
Govender said matters had been raised with both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, but no action had been taken yet. She said the next step for the association was legal action.
“Some of these graduates have now been waiting for more than three years to write their board examinations.
“How will the president explain to the citizens of this country the government’s initiatives to import medical personnel when South African doctors have been waiting so long to write their board examinations?” she said.
“If you look at our record of engaging the minister of health and the HPCSA, it is shocking. These graduates have come back, no burden on the taxpayer, and are keen to write the board exams.
“They are devastated and extremely disappointed with this government for spending R400m to bring in 217 doctors.”
Priscilla Sekhonyana, head of corporate affairs at the HPCSA, said it was everyone’s right to seek intervention from South African courts and that the HPCSA would present the legislative and regulatory requirements that guided its decisions, and would abide by the court’s decision.
“The HPCSA does not accredit international or foreign institutions as it has no legal jurisdiction for such outside of South Africa. However, for applicants who have studied abroad and seek to register with the HPCSA, the training programmes and curriculum, including courses that they studied, are assessed by the HPCSA, and if they are aligned to those that are accredited in South Africa, they will then be recognised - that is, for a period of five years,” she said.
“Should an application be received from such an institution after the five-year period, the same assessment will be undertaken to establish if they are aligned, and therefore recognised by the HPCSA.”
Popo Maja, spokesperson for the National Department of Health, dismissed claims made by the SAITHPA, saying there was no evidence to prove that the aggrieved members of the association were indeed graduates.
He said ordinarily, a country that trained professionals would offer them internships, but this had not been the case with these graduates.
He said South Africa wanted to offer internships to the group provided they passed theoretical exams, but those of them who had sat for the exams had not performed well.
“They should address their grievances with the HPCSA, and we are confident that the council is well equipped to handle the grievances. As the department, we have no right to intervene,” he said.
Maja said it would have been risky for the department to allow graduates to be on the front line of the pandemic without the necessary experience.
“The Cuban health professionals who are now in the country have experience in infection control; that is why the country asked them to come and assist.”