Seven (7) years ago the trio was barely fresh-faced Batswana teens who had just finished secondary school and unfamiliar with the Spanish language. But as they arrived home from Havanna, via Johannesburg last month, the three did not just boast proficiency in the Spanish language, but most importantly, had added titles to their names.
Ambrocia Matabogo, a young lady of 25 years from Lekgwapheng ward, Molepolole; Masa Martha Mogaetsho, 27, of Botalaote ward in Serowe and Seabe Thupa, a young man of 26 years also from Serowe are now Doctors. They earned their Degrees in General
Medicine from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in the island of Cuba, which is reeling under half a century economic and financial blockade from neighbouring imperial North America. It was never going to be a bed of roses. The trio endured trials and tribulations.
Ambrocia suffered a severe depression on her third year when she could not adapt to the new school; Martha could not comprehend her time away from family, the first direct support system that he ever had while Seabe had to contend with the inevitability that he could not render any support to his family, and neither could they. But throughout those seven years, they persevered under a new and exciting culture replete with its Socialist political ideology until they finally took to the podium to receive their Doctoral awards. All three admit that graduation day marked their highest moment in Cuba when they finally became Doctors.
Armed with both theoretical and practical knowledge, the trio is best placed to proffer advice to their homeland on how to improve the health system. Ambrocia, now a General Doctor, did her primary education at Kgomotso English medium and Lewis Memorial School. She them did her junior school at Masilo secondary before completing at Kweneng international secondary school. She says Botswana must see Covid-19 pandemic as a wake-up call and pluck a leaf from Cuba by investing more in the health system. “Cubans take medicine very serious. They invest so much in their health system by training a lot of doctors and specialists.
“Their medicine is primary medicine, which is based on teaching their people how to prevent diseases, preparing them for any health issues they might go through, pregnancy and all sorts. Botswana could also try to adopt primary health care, because it is affordable
and more effective” she posited. In like manner, Martha started at Khuduga Primary school, then transferred to Hillcrest Primary until Standard 4 and finished at Letlhabile Primary. Her junior secondary education was at Maikano Junior while her senior was done at Mogoditshane Senior Secondary School.
For Dr. Martha Mogaetsho the lesson she took from her studies in Cuba was to always put the needs of her patients first and to not deny them any medical service they may need regardless of their background or social standing. She also learnt the importance of training as many of one’s citizens as possible so that all work at improving the health system and be counted among the best countries in medical practice. Dr Seabe Thupa went to Swaneng Primary School then did his junior school in Tonota, Mmashoro and Kgalemang before finally going to Mater Spei for his senior secondary education.
For him the seven years in Cuba felt more like a benchmarking trip on life than a trip abroad to study medicine. He learnt Cuba’s health system from primary level to the highest level and believes he will propose its replication in Botswana one day when he works in the ministry of health. “The most important thing I learnt on practicing medicine was how much they value and emphasise on the Doctor-Patient relationship and how they practice more of preventative medicine rather than curative”, he said.
Asked what lessons can Botswana education system and particularly Sir Ketumile Masire Teaching Hospital take from Cuba's education system and especially ELAM in the area of medicine and biotechnology, Dr. Thupa said: “I personally have never been to the hospital so I don’t know how the teaching system is but it can learn this; for the education system to be more practical, as early as first or second year students should be attending to patients, knowing how the hospital works and already being exposed to research among other things”.
Equally, Dr. Matabogo feels that more investment on training Batswana to become specialists is important because medicine is broad. “Some doctors become professors, some researchers, some go into public health, some become medical books authors, all this would
broaden/enrich our health sector and ensure that our nation has the best medical attention”, she said.
Dr. Masa Martha Mogaetsho adds that the greatest lesson Botswana can take from Cuba’s health sector is that prevention is better than cure! “This is the kind of system we need to implement in Botswana. Also to remember that less is more, we don’t need all the latest technology in a system where we don’t have enough personnel to operate all those machines. “What we need to do is to continually encourage the making of diagnosis through interrogation and less invasive measures. “I also encourage that we invest in our doctors by sending them for specialisation and trusting and giving them the opportunity to take up leadership positions in the hospitals. Who better to treat your people than the people themselves”?