Govt spends N$3.2m on Cuban doctors
Government spent about N$3.2 million in the past financial year to remunerate Cuban expatriate doctors in a bid to fill the staff shortages faced by public health institutions, Permanent secretary Andrew Ndishishi confirmed.
Government may have spent more millions in remunerating other foreign nationals including Zimbabweans, Kenyans, Zambians and Congolese while taking longer to utilise local skills.
Ndishishi told The Villager that the Cuban doctors are now being employed in a personal capacity without negotiating through their government.
Previously, there was a government-to-government agreement on the allocation of health professionals from the North American country.
“The country still has a shortage of doctors, and the government will continue to tap into agreements like those shared between Namibia and Cuba to not only provide people who provide essential services, but also facilitate knowledge transfer to our own doctors” Ndishishi said.
The knowledge transfer between Namibia and Cuba stems from the pre-colonial times when that country assisted People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) fighters to tackle the apartheid system. After independence, Namibia continued to tap into the skills of Cuba in different spheres.
The Deputy Ministry of Health and Social Services, Juliet Kavetuna said she is not at liberty to discuss the remuneration packages of the Cubans, but emphasised that the amounts are less than any amount the government would pay for private doctors in Namibia.
“The agreement which allowed Namibia to source doctors from Cuba and only pay them an allowance of not more than U$200 (N$2000) expired in the early 2000s. Currently, the government advertises for doctors, and they go through the normal recruiting processes”, she stated.
She also corroborated Ndishishi’s statement that foreign doctors are no longer brought in according to bilateral relations, but are hired in their personal capacities.
Kavetuna further explained that all foreign doctors currently working for the ministry have to apply for a work permit which stipulates the agreed amount of years they are required to work for government.
She added that the ministry has no say should they choose to remain and open private practices in the country.
“The government does not have any influence whatsoever on what they do after their work permit with the ministry comes to an end. That is a Home Affairs’ issue, and we have no mandate”, she added.
While admitting that there might be some loopholes in the system concerning work permits, Kavetuna noted that it does not fall in the Ministry of Health’s jurisdiction.
“As far as I know, the Ministry of Home Affairs makes sure that no foreigner works here without valid working permits, and doctors are no exception. Thus, it is up to them to make sure that it does not happen”, she said.
She further explained that most of the students currently studying aboard are funded by the ministry, and will be registered with the Medical Board upon their return in order to ultimately hire them in State hospitals.
“For as long as the country’s health sector’s demands are not met adequately, we will continue to source them from elsewhere”, Kavetuna said in relation to the chronic shortages.
In addition, Kavetuna noted that the ministry has been sourcing doctors from especially Cuba because after Namibia’s independence, many doctors who were South African moved back to that country, leaving Namibia with medical personnel shortages.
“Cuba produces approximately 57000 doctors annually, and it is because of this overflow that as a nation which has always been friendly to Namibia, they agreed to lend us some of their doctors, as we would do should we one day also have an overflow of qualified personnel”, the minister noted.
In the early 2000s, government had a bilateral agreement with the Cuban government which allowed them to bring Cuban doctors to work in State hospitals, where they had allowances instead of basic salaries.
After the bilateral agreement lapsed, Namibian still kept an open channel for Cuban doctors, where they could apply for advertised posts in State hospitals.
Namibia currently houses 120 Cuban medical personnel, which costs the country a monthly salary of N$31 800 per month per specialist; N$25 440 is spent on each medical engineer with a degree; N$23 320 on specialised nurses; and N$21 200 on health personnel and technicians with diplomas.
In addition, the Cuban medical staff are provided with fully-furnished housing, also receive N$83 000 to cover international travel expenses and an additional N$12 621 for excess baggage and cargo when travelling back home on holiday.
by Hileni Heita