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As Cuba and South Africa renews their commitment to address the staffing shortages in South Africa’s public sector, the country also needs to attract foreign doctors from other countries.
It was recently reported in the media that there are 106 518 vacant posts in South Africa’s public health sector. The country desperately needs more doctors. Our medical schools are not producing enough doctors and thousands work overseas or in the private sector. Foreign doctors can play a vital role in addressing the staffing shortages in the public sector.
Foreign doctors can play a massive part in ensuring the successful implementation of the National Health Insurance. The health minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has admitted that human resources are one of the biggest challenges his department faces as it establishes NHI.
South Africa has to remain competitive for these scarce doctor resources, otherwise they will look for greener pastures in other countries. One way of ensuring this is having an effective, user-friendly application process in place. At the same time, the application process has to be managed effectively to ensure that only qualified practitioners are registered and allowed to practise in South Africa.
The Cuban agreement, that builds on the cooperation between the two countries which allows South African students to study medicine in Cuba and Cuban doctors to be recruited to work in rural hospitals here, has become quite controversial over the years.
Language difficulties and the different disease profiles of the two countries are some of the problems plaguing the project.
Despite these challenges Africa Health Placements (AHP) welcomes and supports the agreement as the country desperately needs more doctors, especially in our rural areas. 43,6% of the country’s population live in rural areas, yet they are served by only 12% of doctors and 19% of nurses.
However, if Cuban doctors are to make a valuable contribution to the provision of quality healthcare they need to be properly supported and orientated – aspects that AHP can help with.
AHP currently runs an orientation programme for foreign doctors. The programme aims to orientate foreign doctors and effectively integrate them into their team and community, and to provide ongoing support to doctors during their stay in South Africa. The programme focuses on clinical, cultural and logistical orientation.
AHP also runs a rural doctors’ support programme to reduce professional and personal isolation. This project was piloted in three rural districts in the Eastern Cape last year. A dedicated practice manager was appointed for each of the three rural districts. At the beginning of the year the programme was expanded to five more districts. Practice managers organise regular continued professional development sessions for doctors, assist doctors with administrative and HR problems and assist hospital managers with minor equipment repairs and purchases.