While there has been controversy around the deployment of the Cuban Medical Brigade, the team has been with us through the worst of the Covid-19 surge, writes Zweli Mkhize.
A little over four months ago, 187 highly skilled medical professionals boarded a South African Airways flight from Cuba – embarking on a 16-hour journey to Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force Base.
They touched down soon after the crack of midnight, the biting wind and drizzle juxtaposed by the warm embrace of members of the South African government’s Cuban brethren who were eagerly awaiting their arrival on the edge of the tarmac.
Most left behind their sons and daughters, wives, husbands, family and friends for unknown territory where they would spend months fighting an even more unfamiliar enemy – Covid-19.
The Cuban Medical Brigade, as they would become known, arrived at a time when South Africa had less than 5 000 cumulative Covid-19 cases and less than 90 deaths as a result of the virus – this was only the start of the battle.
They arrived armed and ready to serve and wasted no time joining thousands of their brethren who are already well integrated into the South African healthcare system.
Amid the noise and controversy, it seems to have been lost that these frontline workers have been with us through the most testing phases of our democracy as we battled through the Covid-19 surge.
They were there through the final preparations in May when we readied our infrastructure and rounded up training for medical staff. They were there when we rolled out mass testing in communities to stop the virus before it overwhelmed our health system.
They were there as cases soared into the hundreds of thousands and it seemed as though we would run out of staff and beds. And now, as we return to some normalcy, while evading a second wave in cases, they continue to play a critical role in providing quality health services to our people, especially in areas where staff have come under immense pressure.
When one considers this, it seems extraordinary that there are still South Africans who question the value of the skills, expertise and service that this brigade has brought during a time when we need as many hands on deck as we can possibly find.
Many have argued that the cost to the state outweighs the brigade’s contribution to our Covid-19 fight; I humbly submit that there is no cost too great for human life.
Our responsibility as government is to take every opportunity to use the resources at hand to strengthen the healthcare system.
The South African-Cuban medical partnership has decades of track record demonstrating its effectiveness in helping government to achieve what it is mandated to do.
Cuban health professionals are presently deployed across all nine provinces. They are now fully integrated into the clinical teams and are working alongside South African health professionals to strengthen each province’s response to Covid-19. Continue reading