SA “integration programme” for Cuban-trained military doctors questioned

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Thirteen SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel are back in South Africa following six years of “military medicine” training in Cuba and find themselves in an 18 month “integration programme” before qualifying as medical officers/general practitioners.

Once integration is complete, the 13 will, according to SAMHS SSO Corporate Communication Colonel RP Makopo, do internship and community service – as mandated by the Health Professions Council (HPC) – at the three military hospitals in South Africa.

One who does not see the need for the “extra” 18 months is African Defence Review (ADR) Director Darren Olivier. He asks what value will be gained for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) from the 18 month integration at the University of Pretoria’s School of Medicine in view of the knowledge acquired in Cuba before the 13 are “able to do any work in South Africa”.

He poses the question because “SAMHS internal training programmes are far quicker for most disciplines and are already fully compliant with South African healthcare qualifications”.

Apart from medical education and training, the SANDF, by way of Project Thusano, is exchanging personnel as well as training in disciplines as varied as aircraft maintenance; vehicle upgrades and refurbishing; dental and medical equipment repair and maintenance; as well as musketry instruction. It expanded to include senior staff courses for SANDF officers. Accepting these have their place, thinking out loud Olivier asked if it wasn’t time to ask “how much sense the Cuban training agreements make for a cash-strapped SANDF?”

With Project Thusano in its current form due to end in January 2025, its ministerial review called for by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise last April gives Olivier’s thinking merit.

Modise told Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) public representative Russel Cebekhulu once the review was completed “a decision will then be taken on the various sub-contracts, which ones to terminate and which to continue”.

Project Thusano initially saw Cuban military technicians maintain and repair military prime mission equipment (PME) in South Africa, mainly vehicles, and mentor SA Army Technical Service Corps (TSC) staff. After an initial five years, Thusano was extended to January 2025 with an estimated cost in excess of R2.6 billion over its 13 year lifespan.