2 October 2012

Namibia: Cuba Offers Pricy Deal

THE Namibian taxpayer will fork out N$70 million to finance the training of 100 doctors in Cuba over six years, if a proposal to be discussed with Cuba is approved. Under the agreement it will cost the country N$705 000 to train one doctor in Cuba.

The cost of training a doctor in South Africa, China, Russia or Bulgaria is estimated at about N$498 000.

However, Namibia can only send a limited number of students to countries like South Africa because of quota systems there.

Should the Namibian government decide to increase the number of medical students in Cuba to 250, the cost will be reduced to N$622 500 per student over six years, the agreement stipulates.

At the end of 2011, 22 Namibian students had completed their medical training abroad, while 26 are expected to complete their training by the end of this year.

Currently, Government has 336 medical students at various institutions, including the medical school of the University of Namibia (Unam).

Of the 247 medicine and pharmacy students at the Unam medical school, about 82% are Namibians while about 18% are international students, says Unam spokesperson Utaara Hoveka.

According to a document seen by The Namibian, Health Minister Richard Kamwi has expressed concern about the number of qualified Namibian doctors - especially those working for the State.

"Currently, many of the Namibian-trained doctors are not able to work and stay longer in the public service, because of the wages that are not market related as well as the burden of repayment of loans to [the Ministry of] Education."

Andrew Ndishishi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, last week confirmed that a training agreement with Cuba was on the cards.

Yesterday, when again approached for comment, he said: "No, no, I don't want to talk to you. Whatever I say is not important."

Last week, The Namibian reported that the two countries were also negotiating a deal for medical personnel that would cost the taxpayer N$1,3 million per person over a two-year period - close to 50% more than the current agreement.

Currently, the fee is N$647 621 per person. There are 52 Cuban medical personnel in the country as part of the current agreement.

The fees Cuba wants to charge Namibia for medical personnel from that country "have no relation whatsoever with the prevailing market rates applicable in the public service within southern Africa as a whole", a document seen by The Namibian states.

Because of this, there is a fear that the local market will be destabilised, the document warns.

Destabilising the market would push up the cost of medical care, which is already high, it warns.

Moreover, there are concerns that the new agreement will add fuel to the fire in the public servants' wage talks.

About this in relation to training Namibian doctors, the document seen by the newspaper states: "If one compares what is required to pay for a Cuban doctor to work for only a period of two years as per the new agreement, the investment of the training of 250 Namibian doctors who will remain here permanently is therefore attractive."

The document further states that "Namibia may indicate its willingness to pay a fair price but it must be comparable to the domestic labour market and may not be introduced abruptly but gradually to avoid [a] negative effect on our budgeting system and to prevent potential labour disputes which may disrupt service delivery."

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