The group of medical students who left on Monday for training in Cuba will be able to assist with the roll-out of South Africa's National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme when they return, says KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize.
Mkhize was speaking at King Shaka International Airport in Durban during a farewell function for the 115 students who were selected to study medicine in Cuba as part of the South Africa - Cuba Medical Training Programme.
The programme was started 16 years ago.
Mkhize said the provincial government regarded the students as assets that would transform public health in the province and the rest of country.
"Upon completion of their studies, they will be at the forefront of the implementation of NHI in various health institutions," Mkhize said.
Improving the quality of health services
"For the public to use the publicly funded NHI services in the public and private sector, the quality of health services must improve and these students will assist in this regard."
He added that the disparity in resource distribution between the public and private health sector and consequent inequities in access to care continued and that government had a responsibility to ensure that barriers to access to quality health care for all were removed.
"These students have been selected from all districts in the province with the assistance of mayors and district Aids Councils," he said.
"They are fully aware that they all represent the aspirations of poor people who cannot afford medical aid in order to access quality healthcare."
About 143 students in the province have left for Cuba already and more than 60 are expected to leave over the next two days.
Mkhize said the main target as the KwaZulu-Natal government was to train more medical students in order to increase the current output of doctors produced each year by the country.
KwaZulu-Natal has been ardently implementing key interventions and activities as part of the preparatory work for the implementation of NHI.
As part of the pilot process, the province has also been testing components that focus on improving financial management capacity and systems at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital and King Edward VIII Academic Hospital.