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MBABANE – How much is government spending on the 21 Cuban doctors who were engaged by the Ministry of Health to assist in the country’s healthcare system?

This is a question many economy watchers have asked following that many countries, including the Kingdom of Eswatini, have engaged foreign healthcare specialists to either assist in improving that country’s healthcare system or in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
Government, this week, admitted that the country’s healthcare system was too weak hence COVID-19 crisis has exposed health response to infectious diseases.

payment of salaries

Times SUNDAY has found that government pays the Cuban medical experts each  a stipend of amounting to E15 000 monthly. This effectively means for the 21 Cuban Medical Brigadiers, government spends roughly E315 000 monthly for their services. It has been established that these doctors will spend three years in the country. Their engagement, according government, was as a result of bilateral agreement between the government of Cuba and Eswatini.
If you multiply the 36 months the doctors  will stay by the E315 000 spent by government as their monthly stipend, it transpires that government would spend roughly E11.2 million.
This publication has further gathered that apart from the stipend, the Cuban Government has requested that should Eswatini decide to seek support for the fight COVID-19, the doctors  should be paid an extra  monthly allowances of  at least US$800 (about E13 600) each.

Just last week in South Africa it has been reported that the SA Government would spend more than R239 million in the payment of salaries and accommodation cost for the 187 members of the Cuban medical brigadiers, who, according to Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, are specialists in areas in which South Africa has shortages.
Meanwhile, the Government of Eswatini has explained that the 21 Cuban health brigadiers in the country do not receive a salary but rather they term it as a stipend.

money paid regularly

A stipend, according to the Macmillan English Dictionary, is money paid regularly to someone as an allowance or salary for offering his/her service.
According to the 2016/2017 Establishment Register, locally, a doctor is paid a basic salary of E32 509 under grade E4. This translates to E309 108 per annum. However, this amount excludes the on-call allowances which they receive yearly. Last year, about 100 doctors and 251 health practitioners shared E55.3 million in respect of  on-call and standby allowances.

Currently, medical workers including doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and pharmacists are attending to cases related to the coronavirus and other ailments.
In fact, government, according to the Ministry of Health, has hired 600 additional health workers to cover the gap in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of three emaSwati.
Over 470 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the country. 
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Simon Zwane, said government has not yet approached any country for assistance on the provision of health specialists for COVID-19. He said, however, if the need arises, government would not hesitate to rope in more specialists.

provision of health

Zwane explained that the Cuban doctors that are in the country were not brought in as a measure or move to fight COVID-19.
He said their arrival was part of an ongoing programme wherein government wanted to boost its health system because of the expertise these doctors have.
The PS confirmed that government was indeed paying a stipend to these doctors. He said the money has risen from what they were paid when they arrived in the country.
“They don’t receive a salary but a stipend,” the PS insisted.

He continued: “Let me emphasise that there is no health worker who is being paid for working on COVID-19 related illness. The Cuban doctors were brought in to boost the health system due to the shortage of health specialists in the country. It is a fact that even before the coronavirus crisis began, the health workforce was too weak,” “As a country we did not have enough experts in all the cadres in our healthcare system. However, government has done a significant move in terms of addressing the shortages. This is the reason government has hired 600 more health workers to fill the gap in the fight against coronavirus,” he said.

He said what should be noted is that generally there were low figures of health practitioners who had knowledge on handling issues of critical healthcare.
He said but lately government has been training healthcare workers on how infectious diseases are handled. The PS explained that the response is positive and the intern health workers that were all along engaged by government are learning from healthcare specialists.

healthcare specialists

Meanwhile, Bheki Mamba, President of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU), said government should consider engaging more students that can be trained in specialised fields under healthcare. He said following the shortage of healthcare specialists in the country government priority should be to fund courses and program that can capacitate school leavers to be trained as doctors.
“We have no problem with the move by government to engage foreign doctors to assist in the healthcare. In fact, these health practitioners have been roped in because they have special skills yet as a country we have generalists. It is high time we train more radiographic medical practitioners,” he said.
The Taiwanese Government has sent four medical experts whose salaries are catered for by the Taiwanese Government.

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