Fewer than half finish course for doctors in Cuba

2013-03-09 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Fewer than half the South Africans sent to Cuba to train as doctors have completed the course.

Between 1997 and 2009, the government sent 624 medical students to Cuba, but according to parliamentary records, in October 2011 Health director-general Precious Matsoso revealed that by that date, only 257 had qualified as doctors.

The department this week revealed that six students had given up their scholarships and returned home in a dispute over the stipends the government pays them over and above living expenses.

They were part of a group of 187 students who went on strike in February, complaining about the pocket money and about food.

They wanted the stipend increased from R1 600 a month to more than R6 300.

Health spokesperson Joe Maila said it cost the government about R500 000 to train each student in Cuba.

“We gave the students a choice: either they must accept the current stipend or give up and come home. Six chose the second option.”

South Africa has eight medical schools that produce 1 200 doctors a year.

However, to make the National Health Insurance scheme work, the country needs to train at least four times as many doctors.

The government is increasing the capacity, including the building of a new medical school at Polokwane, but sending students to Cuba is another way to produce more doctors.

Last year, the government dramatically increased the number of students in Cuba.

“We decided in October to send 1 000 students as a temporary bridging measure,” Maila said.

The decision by the six students to quit has been condemned.

The Young Communist League demanded that they repay the money already spent on them, while the Democratic Alliance’s Patricia Kopane said they lacked moral fibre.

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