Despite its previous rejection of deployment of Cuban doctors in the province, the Western Cape now also stands to benefit from the 200 medical officials sent by Cuba to South Africa to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
The DA-controlled province, which has the highest number of Covid-19 infections in the country, previously refused to accept Cuban doctors due to its opposition to Communism, a system by which Cuba is governed. But pressured exerted by the ANC in the Western Cape legislature has now forced Premier Alan Winde to agree to receive the Cubans.
Earlier on Monday President Cyril Ramaphosa and a host of his Cabinet ministers paid tribute to Cuba for sending a large contingent of its doctors and other experts to fight the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Ramaphosa said the arrival of the Cubans demonstrated the age-old strategic solidarity partnership between the two countries.
Cuba and South Africa have had 25 years of cordial diplomatic relations, which Ramaphosa said were mutually beneficial. He said the two countries enjoyed constructive cooperation at both bilateral and multilateral levels.
More than 700 mainly disadvantaged South African students qualified as doctors in Cuba since the inception of the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro medical training programme in 1997. More were still undergoing training there.
Ramaphosa said the partnership was a good example of South–South cooperation. This was echoed earlier by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor, who said South Africa remained committed to advance the agenda of the South.
Pandor, along with Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and others welcomed the Cubans at Waterkloof Airforce Base on Monday morning.
Dlamini-Zuma praised Cuba for the help it provided in South Africa’s fight for freedom and providing it with healthcare it needed after freedom. Cuba further assisted in the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
“We had no doubt that you would come and be with us when we fight this Covid-19 virus.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said the fact that the doctors arrived on Freedom Day was significant.
“You are not the first brigade and we know you will not be the last. You have been in the African continent for time immemorial,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
The arrival of Cuban medical experts was a response to a request by Ramaphosa to his Cuban counterpart Díaz Canel Bermúdez.
They will be deployed in different provinces and it’s understood the Covid-19 infection epidemic centres of the Western Cape, Gauteng, eThekwini, Buffalo City, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mangaung would be prioritised.
The Presidency said the group comprised epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health workers; family physicians, healthcare technology engineers and medical experts. The family physicians were expected to guide processes in door-to-door testing and to assist local health workers in health promotion and disease surveillance at community level.
The engineers would assist in maintaining the inventory, deployment and repair of aged medical equipment, while medical experts were expected to provide technical assistance working with local experts.
The doctors would be quarantined for 14 days before they were deployed to start work. Ramaphosa is expected to officially welcome them at the end of that period.