NAMIBIA and Cuba are negotiating a deal for medical personnel that, if it goes through, will cost the Namibian government N$1,3 million per person for 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.
"Since last year, there has been labour instability within the health sector and already, government is negotiating for wages for public servants. This new agreement may have bearing on the wage negotiations especially for public servants."
Currently, the Namibian government pays N$23 000 on average per Cuban medical staff member per month. Of that amount, the Cuban medical personnel get a monthly allowance of N$3 200 for food and pocket money.
In terms of a new draft agreement, the cost will be N$51 800 per employee per month.
Also, the Cuban medical staff are provided with fully furnished housing, receive N$83 000 for international travel and N$12 621 for excess baggage and cargo when travelling back home on holiday.
Of the N$23 000 per month, N$3 200 is paid over to the Cuban embassy and is ultimately supposed to reach Havana.
The current agreement comes to an end next April.
It has come to light that the Ministry of Health and Social Services did not budget for the new costs once the current agreement comes to an end. It is understood that the ministry was caught off guard when it was presented with the new cost structure last month.
Should the government give the new deal the green light, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) ceiling of the ministry would need to be increased.
"There is a serious financial implication - not only on the budget of the ministry, which will be forced to forgo certain services to accommodate the provision of the agreement, including that the ministry's MTEF ceiling shall have to be adjusted to accommodate this cost."
Another spin-off of accepting the agreement would mean that health care could be compromised.
Government would need to "reduce the number of required doctors to fit within available resources which may reduce the
ability of Government to provide adequate medical care and specialised services all over the country".
Until now, the agreement was entered into by the two countries' government. In terms of the new agreement, the Cuban government is represented by a private company from that country called Comercializadora de Servicios Medicos Cubanos, SA.
Andrew Ndishishi, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, yesterday said he and Minister Richard Kamwi are travelling to Cuba possibly as early as next week for the negotiations. "We are just starting. The minister is supposed to lead a delegation to Cuba next week."
According to Ndishishi, the Cubans have the right to propose the cost but the minister will still negotiate on behalf of Government.
He said he was not aware of how much money the new deal would cost.
Kamwi told The Namibian that he would not enter into an agreement which the Namibian government couldn't afford but he did not want to comment on costs.
The country still has a shortage of doctors, he said. Also, the current Cuban doctors only received a living allowance and not a salary.
Between 2009 and now Namibia has received 410 Cuban medical health personnel including doctors, nurses, technicians and technologists and Namibia has paid only their living allowances, which amounted to N$14,4 million.
Of the above, 52 are doctors but Namibia wants 68 more Cuban doctors by April next year to bring the total to 120. That will be at an additional cost of N$31,2 million.
Under the new agreement Namibia will spend N$31 800 per month on a specialist, N$25 440 on a medical engineer at degree level, N$23 320 on specialised nurses and N$21 200 on health personnel and technicians at diploma level.
It is believed that Namibia is negotiating for a grace period for the current 52 Cuban doctors to continue receiving what they earn now until April next year when the ministry will have to find an additional N$30,3 million to fund the increases.