Cuban medical health touches down

Hitting the ground running as they sing Guantanamera, a city on the southeast tip of Cuba where the notorious Guantánamo Bay military base/detention camp is located. Picture: Karen Watkins

A group of Cuban medical professionals have hit the ground running after being welcomed to Cape Town on Sunday.

They are among 217 Cubans who arrived in South Africa last month to support local health-care workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“Welcome and thank you for your sacrifice,” said Health MEC, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, addressing the 28 Cuban medical professionals who have been assigned to the province.

Seated two metres apart in the concourse of the provincial government offices in Wale Street, most wore white gowns, blue masks and held their country’s flag close to their hearts. This group is one of three and part of the Department of Health’s aid plan and also a long-standing commitment between their country and South Africa in health care.

They spent 14 days in mandatory quarantine after arriving in the country last month.

Dr Mbombo said the Cuban team consists of family physicians, epidemiologists, bio-statisticians, health-care technology engineers, biotechnology experts and other specialists. They have been assigned to various provincial health facilities for a year where most help is needed, such as Khayelitsha and Atlantis.

“We are excited about this opportunity. Excited because Cuban teams are already well-known for community health structures because they have done a lot before,” said Dr Mbombo.

Cuban co-ordinator Dr Pedro Manuel Perez Armas said although it was a great sacrifice for their team, they did it for everyone. “It’s for my family, my colleagues, our world and our ancestors. Saving lives was the oath we took and that’s what brought us here,” said Dr Armas.

Provincial secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, Danver Roman, said they, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African government had a longstanding and good relationship with Cuba. “We are thus not averse to them being here and welcome all the help we can get. They are very well versed in primary health care principles and can only be an added benefit,” he said.

Premier Alan Winde said the province had called for people with medical experience to volunteer, and has received more than 1 000 applications.