The decision to bring in Cuban healthcare specialists to help combat COVID-19 in South Africa was “a bit premature,” according to the SA Medical Association (SAMA).
Speaking to SAfm‘s Stephen Grootes on Tuesday, SAMA’s national chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said the government could have used retired doctors to mentor younger doctors.
She said, “It is a difficult situation in the sense that we always need expertise from other people and it’s always welcome to have them on board and in our country, but for now I think it is a bit premature.”
‘Exhaust internal resources’
The 217 Cuban doctors arrived in the country on Monday. They consist of experts in epidemiology, biostatistics and public health; family physicians; and healthcare technology engineers, according to a statement by the Presidency.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that his “spirits were lifted” when the specialists arrived following a request he had made to Cuban President Díaz Canel Bermúdez.
However, Coetzee said, “I know that we are not yet full into the pandemic and we’re still waiting to go into the eye of the storm, but so far we have managed quite well without outside help.
“Only when you have exhausted your internal resources [would] it be prudent to get people from the outside in.”
Coetzee added that there was no consultation between the government and SAMA or the nursing council on the decision, adding that South Africa has the same skills the Cuban doctors have.
She said, “It’s not that complicated skills that we need. It’s a lot of common sense that’s needed as well to control this virus.
“You can bring in bring in all the doctors [or] you can have as many doctors as you would like in your own country, but if people don’t adhere to the rules, then it defies the whole purpose of bringing people in.
“We are not unhappy that there are doctors coming in; we say it is premature. We must first look at our own resources and look at our own people. It is quite a lot of money and we could maybe spend that money a bit better.”
A number of political parties, including the African National Congress, Economic Freedom Fighters, and SA Communist Party, have nevertheless welcomed the Cuban specialists.
South Africa and Cuba have had a longstanding agreement that has seen more than 700 South Africans receiving medical training in Cuba.
Besides South Africa, Cuba has also sent medical experts to Italy and about 20 other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To listen to the podcast of Coetzee’s interview on SAfm‘s website, click here.