Durban – The 217 Cuban medical doctors who landed in the country over the weekend to bolster local health-care workers in their efforts to flatten the Covid-19 curve must wait to be cleared before they can start work.
The Cuban medical team have been sent straight into quarantine at a Pretoria hotel, in line with the standard protocol set for those travelling into the country during the Covid-19 crisis, the Department of Health said.
Department spokesperson Dr Lwazi Manzi said the Cuban medical brigade, who had been quarantined in Cuba before travelling to South Africa, would be sent into quarantine at a Pretoria hotel for a period that could last up to 14 days.
The team from Cuba, which landed at the Waterkloof Air Force base on Sunday, consists of epidemiologists, family physicians, biotechnology experts, health-care technology engineers, and biostatisticians.
Currently, South Africa has 4793 identified positive cases of the coronavirus and 90 recorded deaths due to the virus.
The KZN provincial government announced on Sunday that Level 5 of the lockdown would likely remain intact in the eThekwini region beyond April 30.
With the Cuban doctors now undergoing quarantine, Manzi said once they are out of quarantine and have tested negative, they would be deployed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to various spots across the country.
Manzi said the Cubans being sent into quarantine was part of the country’s regulations which stipulate that nobody comes into the country without first undergoing quarantine.
“The quarantine may not necessarily be 14 days because they were already quarantined at home, so it’s really actually about us testing them and then waiting for those test results,” Manzi said.
With Italy gripped by the virus and an alarming death rate, Cuba also sent 52 of its medics to that country last month as Italy battled to cope with a fast-paced rate of infection, and an increasing death toll.
However, Manzi said the South Africa government had requested the assistance of the Cubans because the country did not want to first get to an infection rate and death toll as high as that experienced by countries like Italy, Spain and the US.
“We’re not going to wait until we have a crisis before doing what we need to do.
“Italy waited until they had a crisis before they started calling for help and it’s the same with Spain,” Manzi said.
Cosatu said the arrival of the Cuban medical team was a great act of altruistic solidarity from Cuba.
Cosatu’s international secretary Sonia Mabunda-Kaziboni said Cuba had been a huge support to South Africa with the Cuban medical internationalism programme from 1996 to 2002, which began with the deployment of more than 450 Cuban doctors and medical lecturers.
“It extended to the enrolment of South African students for medical training under the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro collaboration. Under the auspices of the 2012 Agreement on Co-operation in the Fields of Public Health and Medical Sciences, more than 3000 South African students have received medical training in Cuba,” Mabunda-Kaziboni said.
The rising number in Covid-19 positive cases and death toll in South Africa has also seen fresh calls by health union Nehawu for the government to ensure that the implementation of the National Health Insurance is expedited.
Union spokesperson Khaya Xaba said one of the biggest lessons South Africa has to learn from the Covid-19 crisis is the need for a singular health-care system.
He said it should replace the two health-care systems in which one catered for the haves, and the other for the have nots.
“We’ve seen private hospitals struggling and being helped by the public health sector, so the government must have one fund that goes into health, and not one that goes into private health which governments funds 86%, and covers only a few patients in the country, while the public one with only 14% covers most of the people,” Xaba said.
The union further said the intervention of the Cuban medical brigade would be a shot in the arm for South Africa’s efforts to stem the tide against new infections.
“With the new infections growing at an alarming rate, the Cuban brigade could not have come at a better time. The coronavirus has caused unprecedented damage to the economy coupled with an unacceptable number of deaths, job losses, and loss of personal income of millions of our people,” Xaba said.
He said South African doctors trained in Cuba under the Mandela-Castro initiative were already working in public health-care facilities around the country, with another 200 expected back in the country by the end of the year.
By Samkelo Mtshali