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Our medical students are back and getting stuck in to saving SA lives

Hundreds of medical students have returned to SA after spending six years studying in Cuba

Lwandile Bhengu

Growing up in the small dusty  town of Nongoma, north of Durban, 26-year-old Wiseman Guliwe always knew he wanted to save lives.
What he didn’t know was that he would be afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise his dreams abroad.
Guliwe was one of 260 medical students who returned to South Africa last week, after spending six years studying medicine in Cuba through the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro Medical Student Training Programme.
Since its inception in the mid 1990s, the programme has trained 750 South African students.“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, since primary school. I am very grateful to the South African government and the amazing Fidel Castro and Mandela medical training programme that gave us an opportunity to go study medicine in Cuba. From it I have learned a lot,” said Guliwe.“I went to Cuba in 2012 just after finishing my matric in 2011. When we arrived there it wasn’t easy because we had to learn in a foreign language – Spanish. For a couple of months it was challenging because it was something new to us.”
Guliwe recalled how even the simplest things presented a challenge because of the language barrier.
“When buying in shops you had to point at what you wanted because you didn’t know how to say it. The currency was also very confusing but we managed to do it,” he said.
Having been in Cuba for almost a year, Guliwe finally felt like he had found his feet until tragedy struck in 2013.“My little brother, who was doing  mechanical engineering, passed away in a car accident during on Good Friday and I wasn't able to come back home for his burial,” said Guliwe.
After his brother’s death, Guliwe found himself in a deep state of depression.
“I was so depressed. I  wanted to leave because I couldn't concentrate at school.”
Guliwe said that it was “by the Lord’s grace” and focusing on his dream that he was able to overcome his difficult situation.
He started immersing himself in his studies.
“What I enjoyed the most about Cuban medicine was that we were able to start interacting with patients and visiting their homes from our first year. Cuban medicine is better than South African medicine because it is preventative medicine which helps them a lot to detect and treat diseases at an early stage which helps reduce patient complications,” he added.One of his co-students, Palesa Letsoha, from the Eastern Cape, echoed his sentiments, saying the Cuban approach to medicine was more focused on prevention than cure.
“Here in SA, we wait till people get sick instead of going to them while they are healthy and teaching them how to stay healthy ...
“Having studied medicine in a preventative system and now having to work in a curative system is going to be very interesting. I think having the best of both worlds will make us great doctors,” she said.
She loves medicine for several reasons.
“I find the human body very fascinating; one plus one isn’t always two. You get to solve things and that’s why I love medicine. It deals with people,” she said.
Guliwe and Letsoha will be completing their final 18 months of study at various hospitals and clinics in KZN. Letsoha will be based at Ngwelezane Hospital in Empangeni, in northern KZN.
Guliwe said that he was looking forward to putting into practice what he has learnt in Cuba at Chatsworth's RK Khan hospital, south of Durban.

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