The arrival of more than 200 Cuban medics in South Africa to help battle coronavirus has received mixed reactions, with some of the sharpest criticism coming from the South African Medical Association (Sama).

The organisation, which represents about 16,000 health workers, says it welcomes extra hands but says unemployed local medics should have been given priority.

“There are many unemployed doctors in South Africa and many community service medical officers have still not been placed. In addition, many private practitioners have indicated their willingness to assist,” IOL news quotes Sama head Angelique Coetzee as saying.

There have also been raised eyebrows about a Business Live article saying it is going to cost taxpayers 440m rand ($24m; £19m) to have the Cubans in the country for a year.

The team of Cuban medics include family physicians, epidemiologists, biotechnology experts and health-care technology engineers who are being deployed across the country.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has sought to play down the concerns, saying no jobs would be threatened.

“We welcome them and we want to assure everyone that they will not take anyone’s posts and they will be working alongside South Africans. There should not be anyone that feels that they are a threat to [local employment],” Mr Mkhize said.

He added that the Cuban medics were particularly experienced in community medicine.

Cuba is also believed to be one of the leaders in using biotechnology in disease prevention and has expertise in handling infectious diseases.

South African officials say they requested Cuba’s help to try and prevent an escalation of coronavirus infections as has been seen in Europe and the US.

South Africa currently has nearly 5,000 confirmed cases, the highest in Africa – with 93 deaths – and its health system, particularly state hospitals, is already overstretched.

Cuba and South Africa have close ties and the Caribbean island was instrumental in the fight against white-minority rule in South Africa, which did not end until 1994 when anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was elected president.

Since then Cuban doctors been working in some of the most rural parts of South Africa, including at the height of the HIV pandemic.

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