Cubans living in SA welcome a group of Cuban doctors who arrived in April to combat the spread of Covid-19. Picture: REUTERS/SIYABONGA SISHI
Cubans living in SA welcome a group of Cuban doctors who arrived in April to combat the spread of Covid-19. Picture: REUTERS/SIYABONGA SISHI

As the state battles to tackle the shortages of skilled staff brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government is looking to fast track the issuing of work visas to foreign health professionals and expedite their registration to allow them to practise in the country.

SA has an acute shortage of infectious disease specialists in public and private hospitals, which has in many instances hamstrung the response to Covid-19.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said his department had also developed a national database for unemployed health professionals and private medical practitioners available to assist during the Covid-19 pandemic and volunteers.

The department “further captured medical interns and community service personnel, who are completing their statutory obligations and will soon be available for surge deployment either on a temporary or full-time basis”, Mkhize said in a written reply to a question in parliament from the DA which was published on Friday.

In April, Mkhize came under fire after the government brought in about 200 Cuban medical professionals at a cost of R440m a year. At the time, the SA Medical Association (Sama) said there were plenty of unemployed and retired doctors in SA who could have been recruited by the government before it turned to Cuba. It said SA had more than 15,000 doctors in the private sector, most of whom wanted to be involved but did not have an entry portal.

Mkhize defended the decision to bring in Cuban doctors, saying they had a particular strength in community medicine, an area in which SA was weak.

In his reply, Mkhize said his department has added more foreign health professionals to its database who intend to practise their trade in SA.

“Discussions are currently [being] held with the department of home affairs to assist in fast tracking visas as well as with professional councils to address professional registration and agree on temporary licensing arrangements as an emergency mechanism. These cadres could be deployed across provinces to relieve the surge demands,” the minister said.

The nine provincial health departments had placed recruitment adverts for additional health workers across various categories on a contractual basis ranging from six to 12 months, Mkhize said. The targeted groups included bursary holders who recently completed training, unemployed health professionals and retired health professionals.

DA MP Hildegard Boshoff asked about the deployment of the Cuban doctors and their subsistence and travel expenditure costs to each province.

Mkhize said no costs have been incurred or will be incurred in the future for subsistence expenditure for the duration of the contract.

“There is no special arrangement for the Cuban health brigade transportation to get to their workplaces. They are incorporated into teams that include SA health professionals across provinces and they all are transported with government vehicles where they are required to travel to areas away from the facilities where they are stationed,” he said.

Responding to a separate question from the EFF on the purchase orders for Covid-19 test kits, Mkhize revealed that most of these were sourced from the US. Other suppliers are based in China, South Korea and Switzerland. Just more than 42,000 test kits had been ordered to date.  

“Test kits are mostly ordered weekly, based on the number of kits that suppliers have available and are able to import into the country,” Mkhize said.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.