The R32.5 million used by the Gauteng department of health to pay 28 Cuban doctors for a year at the height of the pandemic came from the province’s HIV/Aids grant, the DA said in a statement on Thursday.
The millions spent on the doctors, whose services the party said was not needed, has been slammed as “wasteful and misdirected”.
The DA said Gauteng health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi disclosed in the Gauteng legislature that the Cuban Brigade doctors, employed from 15 May 2020 to 30 May 2021, had salaries ranging from R858,000 for biostaticians, to R1.58 million for specialised medical doctors.
According to Mokgethi, their employment “was as a result of a government to government agreement entered into by South Africa and Cuba to fight the Covid-19 pandemic”.
However, the source of the funding for their salaries is “surely irregular”, the DA said.
“It appears Gauteng was forced to fit in with the nationally imposed decision to use Cuban doctors even though no local need was identified.
“I doubt whether these doctors did anything that local doctors could not have done more cost effectively,” DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom said.
Other than questioning the source of the money used to pay the Cuban doctors, Bloom said the agreement between the South African and Cuban governments is “yet another example of the ANC’s Cuba obsession that diverts money that should be used to save the lives of patients in our crumbling hospitals”.
Premature, costly and unnecessary
South African Medical Association (Sama) chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee at the time slammed the timing of the Cuban doctors’ presence in the country.
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Talking to The Citizen last year, Coetzee said there were already doctors in the private sector without work, adding at the time that at least 50 community service doctors were still to be placed by the government.
South Africa has longstanding relations with Cuba, particularly the Cuba-SA doctor training programme, but this has been mired in controversy.
In 2019, The Citizen revealed how the Free State province’s Cuban technical advisors programme, which has cost the taxpayer more than R80 million since its inception by then premier Ace Magashule more than four years ago, has apparently collapsed, with only three of the 37 Cuban engineers still in the country.
In 2014, the Free State government sent 239 students to China as part of the scheme, but there was an uproar from opposition parties, who queried the enrolment of the SA students in China as the institutions in question were apparently not accredited.
Additional reporting by Sipho Mabena