KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo

Two South African medical students who were studying abroad in Cuba as part of a government funded programme passed away just days after KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo gave a favourable progress report at Addington Hostpital’s Central Hall on Thursday, 30 November.

The Department of Health has been arranging trauma counselling for family members grappling with loss. In a statement released by the department on Monday, it was reported that final year medical students in Cuba, Sihle Cebo Makhaye and Sibusiso Thanks Ngeleka drowned at a home that had been hired by students to celebrate a birthday party.

“The MEC of health in KZN is shocked by what happened. We rely on the doctors
from the Cuban programme to improve the state of health in KZN and the MEC will be going to meet with the families of the deceased to explain what happened to the students and that the government is committing to a speedy repatriation of the bodies,” said PRO for the Office of Health Desmond Motha. MEC Dhlomo went to Margate to meet with the family of one of the students on Wednesday and will travel to Umkhanyakude on Saturday said Motha. The tragic passing of the students has dampened the favourable progress report give by MEC Dhlomo on Thursday.

Returning to KZN, close to 100 doctors have qualified since the program’s inception in 2016. Over the years, the Health Department has sent about 900 students to Cuba to study. Dhlomo said that the programme was born out of a need for more doctors in South Africa, particularly in out of the way or rural areas. “In the far strung hospitals, you hardly get doctors, doctors are very few and far between. The main reason was the shortage of doctors which we are now trying to address, there was not enough place for students to study medicine here in South Africa,” said Dhlomo. South African universities were at capacity and could not meet the demand for doctors, said Dhlomo. “Cuba is a country with about 12 million people, they have 28 medical schools, they are not really struggling to
get training, we are a 52 million population with only eight medical schools,” said Dhlomo.

This is not the first fatality to be reported in connection to the Cuba exchange program as another student in Cuba passed away earlier this year, allegedly through suicide.