Hon Deputy Speaker, the Department of Health continues to make a case to increase the production of health professionals and has engaged with various stakeholders, including the deans of health sciences faculties, on the issue. The deans have supported the call to increase the intake of medical students. In 2012, five universities expanded their intake by 220 students and in 2013, seven universities expanded their intake by an overall 327 medical students.
South Africa also signed a memorandum of understanding, MOU, with Cuba in 1997. We are also very happy to say that we have increased the training of students in Cuba from 80 in 2011 to 995 in 2012.
In collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, the health sector also facilitates the recruitment of foreign health professionals through government-to-government agreements, with the purpose of providing health services in different underserved areas in South Africa.
Currently, health professionals from Cuba, Iran and Tunisia are employed in the public health system, over and above those that come directly from various European and other countries.
The department is currently employing a systematic means of engaging the services of independent general practitioners, especially in the rural and remote areas, and also in townships, to provide health services in public facilities as part of the implementation of the National Health Insurance.
The department has also prioritised the refurbishment of a number of training institutions to enhance and increase the production capacity of these institutions, as they are teaching platforms.
Plans are under way for the development of a new tertiary institution, especially in Polokwane, and to strengthen the Medical University of Southern Africa, Medunsa, as a new health sciences faculty.
In terms of whether these factors will improve the life expectancy of South Africans, indeed, we are continuously encouraged that South Africans have adopted good, healthy habits through regular, healthy lifestyles. We are also encouraged that some of the medical aids have used very innovative ways to promote this. However, we continue to call on South Africans to look at promoting physical exercise and health education, to limit alcohol use, to stop smoking, to ensure good nutrition and to reduce salt in food products.
All these initiatives will ensure that while we increase the number of health professionals, we limit the service to South Africans who have those diseases that are preventable.
We are happy that the life expectancy of South Africans has increased over the years and we are well poised, working with all, to achieve the NDP goal of a minimum of 70 years of life expectancy. I thank you.