The deployment of Cuban doctors in South Africa to help combat COVID-19 could potentially cost taxpayers more than R400m, according to a report by Business Day.
The publication said on Tuesday that it had seen government documents sent to the National Treasury projecting the cost at R440m for 187 Cuban doctors.
According to the Presidency, a total of 217 doctors eventually arrived on Monday, meaning the cost could be higher than the projection.
‘R275m salary bill’
The projection reportedly includes R121 million for accommodation for one year and a salary bill of R275 million.
The contingent consists of experts in epidemiology, biostatistics and public health; family physicians; and healthcare technology engineers.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the Cuban health specialists have “particular strengths” in areas in which South Africa is “very weak.”
“They are coming to add on what South Africa’s human resources are, so it is important to say that the Cuban doctors are coming at our request to reinforce because they have particular strengths,” he said.
Bringing in Cuban doctors ‘premature’
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that his “spirits were lifted” when the health specialists arrived following a request he had made to Cuban President Díaz Canel Bermúdez.
However, the SA Medical Association (SAMA) said on Tuesday that bringing in the specialists at this point in time was “premature.”
Speaking to SAfm‘s Stephen Grootes, SAMA’s national chairperson 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.”
Coetzee added, “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.
“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.”
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.