Middle East countries have a testimony to tell about the role of Cuban medical specialists.
By David Serumaga
KAMPALA - Last month, officials from the Public Service and Ministry of Health appeared before one of the committees at Parliament, where they declared that the Government of Uganda is in process of bringing specialised Cuban doctors to help in providing medical services in the remote areas where our own doctors have failed to go.
This statement rose criticism among opposition politicians and some of our medical practitioners claiming that our Government has made a bad move to bring foreign man power, because Uganda has enough doctors to do the job.
During the Labour Day celebrations in Sembabule district, his excellence the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni confirmed that he was hiring Cuban doctors because he was not happy with the way how local doctors do their work, something that prompted him to reconsider his idea of calling Cuban doctors to replace our very own. His statement has been welcomed by those who realised the reasons as to why he came to this decision.
Therefore, opposition members are misinterpreting his statement and make the public think that Government is leaving our doctors unemployed and giving jobs to foreigners. I doubt that the coming of specific Cuban doctors is aimed at keeping our doctors unemployed but rather to solve some complicated medical issues and to extend medical facilities to remote areas.
That can be one of the major reasons but we have to know that Cuban doctors have always been here and their work is visible positively. The relationship between the Cuban Government and President Museveni begun way back in 1980's when President Museveni sent over 60 Ugandan soldiers to Cuba for training. After some months, the former Cuban President Fidel Castro called President Museveni for a meeting which in the end revealed that 18 UPDF soldiers were infected with HIV/AIDs, something that needed a joint effort from both the Cuban and Ugandan Governments. After that meeting, it was resolved that Cuban medical experts had to help Uganda to curb the HIV/AIDS virus which was on a rise.
After that engagement, President Museveni picked interest in the disease and led the sensitisation to fight against it with the knowledge and support of specialised Cuban doctors who were here on Fidel Castro's deployment. By then, the AIDS prevalence in some areas in Uganda was at 30% and at the national level 18%. Although Cuba is not among the richest countries in the world, but if there is a field that Cuba has convincingly made its own, it's medicine. When the Ugandan government wanted to implement the idea of starting Mbarara University of Science and Technology, with the advice of President Museveni, officials just decided to look back at Cuban doctors to teach in the medical school which they have done tremendously.
Since Cuba is referred to as the best country with health care services, it means that there is a positive impact they have rendered to Uganda in the medical field and health knowledge sharing. Although they have given knowledge and skill to our students who studied from Mbarara University of Science and Technology, there is still a big gap and weaknesses in our health sector which required our Government to look for specific specialised medical experts that will help in giving health services to Ugandans, train our interns and give knowledge to our own doctors.
Cuban doctors have not only been in Uganda but in almost every country in the world. In 2014, Cuba was one of the single biggest provider of health workers in the Ebola-hit West African countries, many more than those so far sent by far richer nations, according to the World Health Organization.
During that period President Raul Castro, embraced the 248 doctors and nurses who waved Cuban flags and went to West African countries of Liberia and Guinea Sierra Leone which was affected by Ebola in 2014. Cuba first came to Africa's aid during the liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s, helping independence movements in some southern Africa countries.
Like Uganda is trying to do, based on a bilateral healthcare cooperation agreement signed in 1995, the first Cuban doctors began arriving in South Africa in 1996, to fill a skills shortage in state hospitals and in rural and under-served areas. Over 450 Cuban doctors took placements in South Africa and over 250 South African medical students have undergone training in Cuba.
About 35,000 of these doctors, along with 30,000 Cuban nurses and other health professionals, are working or have worked in 67 countries around the world. More than 20,000 have worked in Brazil and Venezuela and it is estimated to that they might have provided treatment to more 60 million Brazilians, mostly the rural poor.
Middle East countries have a testimony to tell about the role of Cuban medical specialists. In Qatar, an oil-rich emirate about as far from Cuba geographically and culturally as any place in the world, the so-called Cuban Hospital is fully staffed by 400 Cuban doctors, nurses, and technicians.
Countries like Haiti, United States of America have ever hired Cuban medical specialists to provide health services to their people. For those that say President Museveni is hiring Cuban medical specialists to create unemployment to our own doctors are just trying to politicize service delivery because it their coming to empower our health sector. Our neighbors the Kenyans are processing to hire over 100 doctors from Cuba and take their interns for training to equip them with more medical professional skills.
The writer is the president of the Buganda Youth Wing