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cuba-southafricaCUBA STANDARD —In another success in its efforts to diversify for-pay medical service exports, Cuba is nearly doubling its medical program in South Africa.

The number of Cuban doctors working in the African country under a bilateral program will grow from 119 to 213 within the next three months, Alex Carreras Pons, head of the cooperation delegation of Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (Minsap) in South Africa, told Prensa Latina.

A Brazilian plan to contract thousands of Cuban doctors in underserved areas of the South American country is still alive. The by far biggest share of Cuba’s income for medical service exports comes from Venezuela; under a bilateral oil-for-services agreement, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors are serving in Venezuela.

In a rare mention of the amounts Cuba receives for medical services abroad, the official news agency quoted Carreras Pons as saying that Cuba collected $3 million for the export of medical services and pharmaceutical products from South Africa in 2012. The article didn’t say how much Cuba charges South Africa for medical services.

The South African health ministry is struggling to find enough doctors to work in the expanding public health system. Half of South Africa’s medical graduates emigrate to countries like Canada or join the private sector.

Based on a bilateral healthcare cooperation agreement signed in 1995, the first Cuban doctors began arriving in South Africa in 1996, to fill a skills shortage in state hospitals and in rural and under-served areas.

Cuba also increased the number of scholarships for South African medical students in Cuba from 60 to 80. However, most of the South African medical students in Cuba pay their own way or get scholarships from the South African government. Cuba received $10 million for the medical studies of South Africans on the island in 2012, Carreras Pons said.