SA to pay R239m for Cuban doctors, Zweli Mkhize tells parliament

08 June 2020 - 17:44
By Andisiwe Makinana
Cuban health specialists arrived in SA on April 26 to support efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Image: GCIS Cuban health specialists arrived in SA on April 26 to support efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Cuban doctors seconded to SA to help in the fight against Covid-19 will cost the state just over R239m, health minister Zweli Mkhize has revealed.

Provinces will pay millions more for accommodating the brigade until April 2021.

Mkhize told DA MP Siviwe Gwarube, in a written reply to parliamentary questions, that Cuba had availed 187 medical specialists to help SA in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the 187 worked in areas in which the country was struggling to produce enough experts. They are qualified in biostatistics, epidemiologists, family physicians and health technologists. The group is made up of the following specialists:

  • 116 family physicians;
  • 32 health technologists;
  • 18 epidemiology technologists;
  • 13 biostatistics;
  • two public health specialists;
  • five biomedical engineers; and
  • one nurse.

“All of them,” was how Mkhize responded to Gwarube's question on the total number of the Cuban medical personnel who are proficient in English and or in any other official South African language.

Mkhize's response shows that R239,181,933 had been budgeted for salaries.

The estimated budget cost is informed by actual appointment levels of the Cuban health brigade as determined by their registration category, which took into consideration years of experience,” he said.

All the family physicians and biostatisticians are appointed at grade 2 of medical officer level, and epidemiology technologists/health technology and public health specialists are at deputy director level, while biomedical engineers are at ASD level.”

A further R734,100 will be paid for the registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), but this money will be later recouped from the doctors, Mkhize said.

It is a norm that the registration cost is paid by an individual health professional to the council.

“However, as per the government-to-government agreement, the South African pays the fee to the HPCSA and, thereafter, deduct the full amount of registration from the individual health professionals’ first salary,” he said.

This means there is no actual cost to be incurred by the South African government, however it is a convenient process arranged to ensure that all of the professionals are registered accordingly.

On accommodation, Mkhize said most provinces had entered into agreements with providers for a 12-month period. Other provinces were only accommodating the brigade for May and June before moving them to hotspots districts and communities.

Therefore, the accommodation in these areas are still not confirmed, as negotiations are still under way.”

He said provinces first considered doctors' quarters where the brigade will be stationed.

Those who have been deployed in the Eastern Cape are residing in B&Bs and should be accommodated for the full period of their contract, he said. The province has budgeted R384,000 for this.

In the Free State, the brigade is currently accommodated at Premier Hotel in Bloemfontein, while going through orientation processes. Mkhize's response shows that the doctors will be accommodated there at a cost of R162,464 for May and June. From July 1, they will be distributed to facilities across the province and they will be staying in facility accommodation. The Free State has budgeted an extra R595,000 for this.

Gauteng negotiated a R1,000 rate per room including breakfast, lunch and dinner, laundry services and hand sanitation at Burgers Park Hotel. This is where the doctors have been staying since May 15 and will stay until June 30. It is expected that the doctors will be distributed across the province from July 1 to April 2021 and their accommodation will then be provided by hospitals.

In Limpopo, the doctors have been accommodated at Zanami Lodge in Polokwane while being orientated. This will cost the province R252,000.

In the Northern Cape, the brigade is accommodated at B&Bs until June 2020 at a cost of R320,000.

Like Gauteng and Limpopo, the Northern Cape indicated that once the doctors are distributed across the province from July 1 to April 2021, their accommodation will then be provided by hospitals.

The brigades have already been distributed across the North West's provincial districts and are staying in B&Bs and others in hospital accommodation, said Mkhize. The cost of their stay in the province between June 2020 and April 2021 will be just over R2m.

In the Western Cape, the doctors are accommodated at the four-star Icon Luxury apartments in Cape Town at R1.2m for 12 months.

Information from KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga was outstanding.