Just before the stroke of midnight on Sunday evening, 217 health specialists from Cuba touched down at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Gauteng.

Following a request from President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cuba sent the specialists to support South Africa’s efforts in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

The group of 217 health workers consists of:

  • experts in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health
  • family physicians to guide interventions through door-to-door testing and to assist local health workers in health promotion and disease surveillance at the community level
  • healthcare technology engineers to assist in maintaining the inventory, deployment and repair of aged medical equipment
  • experts to provide technical assistance working with local experts

The medical brigade received a warm welcome from International Relations and Cooperation minister Naledi Pandor, deputy Health minister Joe Phaahla and Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu.

In a statement on Sunday, Health minister Zweli Mkhize said the strong social and political solidarity and support that exists between the two countries have been seen in various development programmes.

“As the Department of Health, we have continuously enjoyed this support through the ongoing medical training programme of South African students in Cuba. As Cuba did in the difficult times of apartheid, it has once again lent its hand by sending health workers who are specialised in the areas of Family Medicine, Infection Prevention Control, Case Management, Regulatory Authority, Epidemiology and Surveillance, Health Technology and Biostatistics,” Mkhize said.

Cuba is known for its disaster preparedness and its consistent deployment of medical brigades for disaster relief wherever required, which continues to earn Havana goodwill worldwide.

Some of these highly-skilled health professionals were on the frontline of fighting other outbreaks in the world such as Cholera in Haiti in 2010, and Ebola in West Africa in 2013.

Before departure from Cuba, the medical brigade had been placed in quarantine to ensure that they minimise any form of exposure prior to coming to South Africa. This is despite the fact that Cuba is one of the countries where the reported COVID-19 infection rate remains minimal.

“As South Africa, we have taken an additional step which is in line with our lockdown regulations. This team will be put in precautionary quarantine as they await their test results. We will also use this period to fully induct them into the South African situational analysis and the various provinces they will be deployed to,” Mkhize said.

The team of health specialists will soon be deployed to provinces where they are needed most.

“We express our sincere appreciation to the Ambassador of Cuba, HE R B Version and his team in South Africa that have greatly assisted in the coordination of this mission. We have no doubt our public health facilities will benefit from this generous and selfless gesture by our Cuban brethren,” Mkhize said.