Cuban-Trained Medical Students Return to UKZN
A total of 126 Medical students who underwent five years of training in Cuba have been welcomed back “home” at UKZN.
The College of Health Sciences (CHS) hosted a “welcome home” party for the students who all completed the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro Cuban Collaboration Programme (NMFCCP) and have now returned to complete 18 months of clinical training at KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) hospitals.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and CHS Head, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, warmly welcomed the students back into the UKZN family saying: ‘We assure our students that UKZN will walk together with you through this 18-month journey at hospitals in KZN.’
The NMFCCP forms part of a bi-national agreement between South Africa and Cuba signed by former presidents Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro aimed at alleviating the shortage of medical skills in South Africa.
The students will be rotated through clinical blocks such as surgical practice, obstetrics and gynaecology, internal medicine, child health, primary care, and mental health. The training will take place in HPCSA-accredited teaching hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal, including Addington, General Justice Gizenga Mpanga, RK Khan, Prince Mshiyeni, King Edward VIII, Queen Nandi, Ngwelezane, Port Shepstone, Newcastle, King Dinizulu, Estcourt, St Apollinaris, Nkandla and Wentworth.
Dr Gustavo Lopez, a Cuban national and current Medical Manager at General Justice Gizenga Mpanga Hospital in northern KwaZulu-Natal, told the students: ‘The main focus of the Cuban medical programme is on community-orientated primary healthcare while the South African system is focused on curative care. You have returned to South Africa with a wealth of knowledge of the primary healthcare model and are thus well-placed to assist in the transformation of the current health system.’
Professor Ncoza Dlova, Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine, encouraged the students to work hard and remain focused on succeeding. ‘It is not how you start the race but how you end it and your attitude will determine if you win or lose,’ she said. Dlova assured the students of the full support of her School and especially that of her 36 medi-leaders who have pledged their support and mentorship. The Dean’s medi-leaders are students being mentored by Dlova to develop leadership skills.
The students were encouraged to work as patient advocates and ensure that they strive for social justice that goes beyond the clinical training. Head of Family Medicine, Dr Bernhard Gaede, said: ‘You need to teach us how the healthcare system can run differently and better in South Africa. The burden of disease is huge in KwaZulu-Natal and we are just not getting on top of this as clinicians. There’s a flood in the outpatient units. We need to learn how to turn this tap off. We can only do this if we learn from each other and take this journey together.’
The Medical Campus Representative Council, represented by Mr Kenneth Sithole, also welcomed the students and offered its full support. ‘We are proud of your achievements thus far. Despite all your challenges, you have succeeded. Today you write the first page of your 18-month book. Make sure you write a great story,’ he said.
The student’s class representative, Mr Nhlanhla Khuzwayo, grew up in the rural town of Nongoma in northern KwaZulu-Natal under the care of his aunt. He was also supported by a British couple from their church. Khuzwayo said he had always been determined to qualify as doctor and was ecstatic to receive a NMFCCP scholarship to study in Cuba.
‘In life, there are always challenges but one needs to remain positive. I am a product of a special friendship between two former presidents: Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro who made this programme possible. We are here to make a difference and we are excited to join the UKZN family.’
Words: MaryAnn Francis