KZN lifts its sur­prise ban on re­cruit­ing for­eign doc­tors

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Ta­mar Kahn Science & Health Writer

Amid the wave of xeno­pho­bic at­tacks and deadly vi­o­lence that has height­ened ten­sions be­tween SA and its key trad­ing part­ners in the rest of Africa, KwaZulu-Natal’s health de­part­ment pub­lished a cir­cu­lar last week ban­ning the re­cruit­ment of for­eign doc­tors.

The de­part­ment said it wanted to make space for newly qual­i­fied locals who were re­turn­ing from train­ing in Cuba.

Last week’s vi­o­lence led to the death of 12 peo­ple, two of them for­eign­ers, and the ar­rest of 639 peo­ple.

It over­shad­owed the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum on Africa in Cape Town, which was billed as an opportunit­y for SA to project its role as a leader in Africa.

The de­part­ment re­tracted the cir­cu­lar on Wed­nes­day for rea­sons it has yet to explain, ac­cord­ing to the na­tional health de­part­ment and SA’s big­gest doctor union, the SA Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (Sama). The pro­vin­cial de­part­ment had not re­sponded to Busi­ness Day’s re­peated re­quests for com­ment at the time of pub­li­ca­tion.

Busi­ness Day has seen a copy of the cir­cu­lar, dated Septem­ber 4, in which KwaZulu-Natal’s acting head of health, Musa Gumede, said the re­cruit­ment and em­ploy­ment of for­eign health pro­fes­sion­als had been sus­pended.

The de­part­ment has re­cruited “a huge num­ber” of SA cit­i­zens to be trained as doc­tors in Cuba and will have in­suf­fi­cient posts and funds to ab­sorb them un­less the re­cruit­ment and em­ploy­ment of for­eign doc­tors is halted, he said.

The KwaZulu-Natal health de­part­ment em­ploys 336 for­eign doc­tors from 57 coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued by the IFP.

ILL-CON­SID­ERED

Sama vice-chair Mvuy­isi Mzukwa said the tim­ing of the cir­cu­lar was ill-con­sid­ered given the re­cent at­tacks on im­mi­grants. “The coun­try is on fire,” he said.

The di­rec­tive it­self is puz­zling, as govern­ment pol­icy pri­ori­tises hir­ing SA doc­tors over for­eign na­tion­als, he said.

Med­i­cal stu­dents re­turn­ing from Cuba re­quire three more years of train­ing and com­mu­nity ser­vice to qual­ify.

SA has been send­ing med­i­cal stu­dents to train in Cuba since 1997 un­der a deal in terms of which Cuba has also been send­ing health-care pro­fes­sion­als to work in SA’s ru­ral ar­eas.

The pro­gramme has strong po­lit­i­cal sup­port and has helped SA over­come the in­abil­ity of its med­i­cal schools to train enough doc­tors for the coun­try’s needs. But it has proved to be nei­ther ef­fi­cient nor cheap.

Stu­dents who study medicine in Cuba take two years longer to qual­ify than their peers

in SA, and each year of study in Cuba costs more than dou­ble what it would lo­cally.

In its early years, only a few hun­dred stu­dents were trained in Cuba, but the num­bers were dra­mat­i­cally in­creased un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Health min­is­ter Zweli Mkhize’s spokesper­son, Lwazi Manzi, said 1,912 stu­dents were study­ing medicine in Cuba and more than 650 would grad­u­ate in 2020. The aver­age out­put of SA’s med­i­cal schools is 1,400 grad­u­ates a year.

“New regis­tra­tions on the Cuba pro­gramme have been sus­pended to be able to ab­sorb the large co­hort com­ing in next year,” she said.

The an­nual cost of med­i­cal train­ing in Cuba is R331,000, com­pared with R150,000 at a lo­cal med­i­cal school, ac­cord­ing to a writ­ten re­ply given by Gaut­eng health MEC Bandile Ma­suku in Au­gust in re­sponse to questions posed by the DA’s Jack Bloom.

Bloom es­ti­mates that it costs R2.136m to train an SA med­i­cal stu­dent in Cuba, com­pared with R900,000 if the stu­dent stud­ied in SA.

The Cuban-trained stu­dents spend their first year learn­ing Span­ish and then do five years at a Cuban med­i­cal school.

They spend their fi­nal year at an SA med­i­cal school and must pass lo­cal ex­ams to qual­ify.

336 the num­ber of for­eign doc­tors em­ployed by the KwaZu­luNatal health de­part­ment

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