08 July 2018
There was sheer jubilation, and tears of joy as some of the 260 fifth year medical students who have been studying in Cuba were reunited with their families at King Shaka International Airport earlier today. Having left the country in 2012, the students have now finally come back home to complete their studies and then graduate as fully-fledged doctors. Eighty-eight (88) of them returned yesterday and spent a night in Johannesburg, while more will be returning on 12 July 2018, and again on 19 July 2018.
They will spend the next 18 months of their studies at local universities across the country, and then be dispatched to health facilities in their districts of origin. Here, they will put on a white coat and stethoscope and start working as doctors - literally meaning that their communities will have access to more doctors than ever before. KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who welcomed the KZN students and helped them reunite with their families, says this is a historic and profoundly significant moment in the country’s history as the country will have increased capacity to deliver healthcare to the public, including far-flung areas where the global shortage of doctors is acutely felt. He said the return of these students carries even more significance as it coincides with the celebration of the centenary year of Dr Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, who was a nurse and later became a prominent anti-Apartheid activist.
It was Presidents Nelson Mandela and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro who signed a pact in 1994 promoting diplomatic relations between South Africa and Cuba. This gave rise to the SA-Cuba Health Cooperation Agreement, which led to the Cuba-SA medical doctor training programme.
The returning students were part of the 2885 South African medical students in Cuba at various levels of study. No fewer than 590 doctors have already qualified from the training programme since it started in 1996, while 98 students are doing their final year at South African medical schools.