SA in need of 20000 health specialists

Group of health workers, nurse, doctor etc Picture credit: Thinkstock

By Youlendree Appasamy | Apr 11, 2016 | COMMENTS [ 32 ]

With 80% of all specialists in South Africa concentrated in the private healthcare sectors of the Western Cape and Gauteng, the public sector is struggling with a shortage of an estimated 20000 health specialists.

This was revealed by Professor Yusuf Veriava, the former head of internal medicine at Wits University. Veriava sits on the ministerial academic review committee of the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration.

The partnership sends South African doctors to Cuba for medical training and peer reviews Cuban doctors to practise in this country’s public sector.

“[In] the rural areas, the doctor-to-patient ratio is estimated at 0.77 per 1000 – that’s just one practising doctor for every 4219 people,” said Veriava.

The national department of health is restructuring the partnership to better serve the public healthcare shortfalls.

“We’re adjusting the programme to be manageable by sending students for training in cycles, meaning we won’t be sending the same big number every year,” spokesman Joe Maila said.

There are 508 Cuban-trained South African graduates currently practising in the country.

“We have 2967 students currently studying in Cuba and there are no details for training students anywhere else right at the moment.

“However, we are open to opportunities to send students to other places. We will consider training opportunities elsewhere without necessarily discontinuing the Cuban training programme and no such decision has been taken yet,” Maila said.

Rural Doctors Association of Southern Africa chairman Dr Desmond Kegakilwe understands the shortage well, having been raised in rural Tlhakgameng in North West.

Kegakilwe studied towards his medical degree in Cuba as part of the second group of South Africans to benefit from the partnership.

On returning home to secure his SA qualification, after a rocky start in Cuba, he found South African medical campuses were no better.

“There was no clear policy to say you would stay in this [South African] university, for so long. The campuses differed in the length of time they were willing to take us on – there was lots of politics,” he said in an article published in the SA Medical Journal.

Veriava shares the same sentiment with anecdotal evidence of red tape hindering Cuban-trained doctors.

“While we need to ensure medical care standards are not compromised, we’re facing a major skills shortage and need all the practising professionals we can get. Administrative delays and so on cannot be accepted as excuses any longer,” he said.