Prof Cheryl de la Rey congratulates medical graduates trained in Cuba

Posted on July 05, 2013

Prof De la Rey said that the graduations enabled the University of Pretoria to further contribute to the National Human Capital Development Strategy to South Africa’s healthcare services. She went on to say that the doctors’ graduations signify a change in their lives, an opening of another chapter. “We are paying tribute to your achievements through this celebration today, but at the same time we are excited about the contributions you are going to make to improve the delivery of healthcare services in our communities,” said Prof De la Rey.

Prof De la Rey continued that community engagement and service is an integral part of higher education in South Africa, and therefore tertiary institutions should ensure that graduates not only exit institutions with the requisite professional skills, but also have a deeper understanding of the social responsibilities of professionals in a developing country like South Africa.

“I wish to remind you of the advice of former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, when he said that freedom is not only to cast off our chains but it is to live in a way that respects and enhances the lives of others. As professionals, I urge you to use your knowledge and skills to enhance the lives of others and make a difference in our communities by serving them as best as you are able,” she concluded.

The medical doctors studied medicine at the University of Villa Clara, Cuba, as part of the South African-Cuban medical collaboration initiated in 1995. There are currently 1 342 South African students studying in Cuba, of whom 55 are finalising their medical degrees at various local universities.

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi conceded that there is a shortage of medical doctors in the country caused by, amongst others, emigration of doctors to other countries and a low number of medical doctors produced in the country as a result of few medical schools. He said that the government will continue to work with the Cuban government which assists in training of medical doctors. “Our medical universities are nowhere near meeting the local demand presently, and we hope that Cuba will continue to offer us assistance in producing medical students until our local universities are able to produce enough medical doctors locally,” said Dr Motsoaledi.

Dr Motsoaledi went on to say that South Africa did not sufficiently plan to produce enough medical professionals. He illustrated the difference between South Africa and Cuba by indicating that Cuba has a population of 11 million but has 27 medical universities, whereas South Africa has only 8 medical universities (the last one built 28 years ago) with a population of 51 million people.

“That is why the current government is planning to build the ninth medical school in Limpopo Province, which would increase the local capacity of medical doctors in the county,” he said. Adding to that, Dr Motsoaledi said that plans are afoot to increase the capacity of the already existing medical schools by building bigger academic hospitals.

Dr Motsoaledi congratulated the graduate medical doctors and urged them to ensure that South Africans have first-class access to medical care. He also advised them not to neglect their responsibility to the people.

Dr Mashoto Rabutla spoke on behalf of the students and gave credit to the South African-Cuban medical collaboration. “We are medical doctors today because of this programme, and we save lives daily and our communities rely on us because of this programme,” he said.

From left to right: Prof Eric Buch, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria;  Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health; Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria; Cuban Ambassador in South Africa, HE E. Savon

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