The multiparty parliamentary delegation, currently visiting Cuba, has unanimously agreed that an intervention Is required to address the concerns faced by South African medical students studying in Cuba. The delegation met representatives of the students in Havana on Thursday.
The students are beneficiaries of the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro Medical Students Training Collaboration in Cuba. The two iconic leaders founded the programme through the Bilateral Health Co-operation Agreement.
The programme is intended to introduce a new health care model focusing on primary and preventative health care services. The programme has opened opportunities for financially disadvantaged students. The programme requires graduates to undergo compulsory service in the communities from which they were recruited. There are currently 1 951 South African students studying in Cuba. To date, 651 students have graduated as medical doctors and about 712 are completing their sixth and final year in South Africa.
At their meeting with the official parliamentary delegation, students expressed their gratitude at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study medicine free of charge at some of the world’s best medical universities in Cuba. However, they also spoke of difficulties and made an impassioned plea for the parliamentary delegation to intervene. Difficulties which the students raised included transport, inadequate stipends and differing levels of support by different provinces in South Africa.
The students told the delegation that the lack of standardisation in the extent to which provinces supported students was a potential source of divisions among them. Although the agreement was signed at a national level, the provinces are responsible for funding the students. This means that the standard of support is inconsistent and varies, depending on the province from which they come.
While students are required, in terms of regulations, to do their final year at South African universities the space was often unavailable. They also called for increased capacity in the office of the Health Attaché in Cuba, to enable improved service, such as psychological support, for the students.
The students also bemoaned the lack of appreciation by our health care system for family medicine. The students are being trained in primary health care, a system that Cuba began phasing in during the 1950s, and is today possibly the best primary health care system in the world. The students urged parliamentarians to serve as good ambassadors of the programme in South Africa.
Members of the parliamentary delegation made a commitment to ensure that the students’ challenges, which they said were not insurmountable, are addressed through parliamentary oversight. Ensuring that the programme is managed at a national level, with minimum uniform norms and standards, would go a long way ensuring equal support for students. The delegation stressed that greater support for sixth year students, who often have to fend for themselves in their struggle to secure space at South African universities, needed attention.
The issue of gender parity in the programme's recruitment process was also flagged, with the delegates saying it must be given attention to ensure 50% or more women representation.
Parliament, agreed the delegation, must deal with these matters and keep the students in Cuba updated on the progress.
Thursday’s engagement programme was the busiest, with the delegation meeting the Cuban Institute of Friendships with the Peoples and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. A courtesy call was also extended to the Vice President of the Council of State.
Parliament’s delegation is led by National Assembly Speaker Ms Baleka Mbete and includes Ms Mmatlala Boroto, (National Assembly House Chairperson for International Relations), Mr Jackson Mthembu (Chief Whip, African National Congress), Ms Dorries Dlakude (Deputy Chief Whip, African National Congress), Mr John Steenhuisen (Chief Whip, Democratic Alliance), Mr Nyiko Shivambu (Chief Whip, Economic Freedom Fighters), Mr Narend Singh (Chief Whip, Inkatha Freedom Party), Ms Tasneem Motara (Provincial Whip: Gauteng), and Ms Regina Lesoma (Whip, Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Co-operation).
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.