Castro’s doctors and nurses are the backbone of the fight against cholera
By Nina Lakhani, The Independent, Sunday, 26 December 2010
They are the real heroes of the Haitian earthquake disaster, the human catastrophe on America’s doorstep which Barack Obama pledged a monumental US humanitarian mission to alleviate. Except these heroes are from America’s arch-enemy Cuba, whose doctors and nurses have put US efforts to shame.
A medical brigade of 1,200 Cubans is operating all over earthquake-torn and cholera-infected Haiti, as part of Fidel Castro’s international medical mission which has won the socialist state many friends, but little international recognition.
Observers of the Haiti earthquake could be forgiven for thinking international aid agencies were alone in tackling the devastation that killed 250,000 people and left nearly 1.5 million homeless. In fact, Cuban healthcare workers have been in Haiti since 1998, so when the earthquake struck the 350-strong team jumped into action. And amid the fanfare and publicity surrounding the arrival of help from the US and the UK, hundreds more Cuban doctors, nurses and therapists arrived with barely a mention. Most countries were gone within two months, again leaving the Cubans and Médecins Sans Frontières as the principal healthcare providers for the impoverished Caribbean island.
Figures released last week show that Cuban medical personnel, working in 40 centres across Haiti, have treated more than 30,000 patients since October. They are the largest foreign contingent, treating around 40 per cent of all cholera patients. Another batch of medics from the Cuban Henry Reeve Brigade, a disaster and emergency specialist team, arrived recently as it became clear that Haiti was struggling to cope with the epidemic that has already killed hundreds.
Since 1998, Cuba has trained 550 Haitian doctors for free at the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina en Cuba (Elam), one of the country’s most radical medical ventures. Another 400 are currently being trained at the school, which offers free education – including free books and a little spending money – to anyone sufficiently qualified who cannot afford to study medicine in their own country.
John Kirk is a professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University in Canada who researches Cuba’s international medical teams. He said: “Cuba’s contribution in Haiti is like the world’s greatest secret. They are barely mentioned, even though they are doing much of the heavy lifting.”
This tradition can be traced back to 1960, when Cuba sent a handful of doctors to Chile, hit by a powerful earthquake, followed by a team of 50 to Algeria in 1963. This was four years after the revolution, which saw nearly half the country’s 7,000 doctors voting with their feet and leaving for the US.
The travelling doctors have served as an extremely useful arm of the government’s foreign and economic policy, winning them friends and favours across the globe. The best-known programme is Operation Miracle, which began with ophthalmologists treating cataract sufferers in impoverished Venezuelan villages in exchange for oil. This initiative has restored the eyesight of 1.8 million people in 35 countries, including that of Mario Teran, the Bolivian sergeant who killed Che Guevara in 1967.
The Henry Reeve Brigade, rebuffed by the Americans after Hurricane Katrina, was the first team to arrive in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, and the last to leave six months later.
Cuba’s constitution lays out an obligation to help the worst-off countries when possible, but international solidarity isn’t the only reason, according to Professor Kirk. “It allows Cuban doctors, who are frightfully underpaid, to earn extra money abroad and learn about diseases and conditions they have only read about. It is also an obsession of Fidel’s and it wins him votes in the UN.”
A third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries, including El Salvador, Mali and East Timor. This still leaves one doctor for every 220 people at home, one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England.
Wherever they are invited, Cubans implement their prevention-focused holistic model, visiting families at home, proactively monitoring maternal and child health. This has produced “stunning results” in parts of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, lowering infant and maternal mortality rates, reducing infectious diseases and leaving behind better trained local health workers, according to Professor Kirk’s research.
Medical training in Cuba lasts six years – a year longer than in the UK – after which every graduate works as a family doctor for three years minimum. Working alongside a nurse, the family doctor looks after 150 to 200 families in the community in which they live.
This model has helped Cuba to achieve some of the world’s most enviable health improvements, despite spending only $400 (£260) per person last year compared with $3,000 (£1,950) in the UK and $7,500 (£4,900) in the US, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures.
Infant mortality rates, one of the most reliable measures of a nation’s healthcare, are 4.8 per 1,000 live births – comparable with Britain and lower than the US. Only 5 per cent of babies are born with a low birth weight, a crucial factor in long-term health, and maternal mortality is the lowest in Latin America, World Health Organisation figures show. Cuba’s polyclinics, open 24 hours a day for emergencies and specialist care, are a step up from the family doctors. Each provides for 15,000 to 35,000 patients via a group of full-time consultants as well as visiting doctors, ensuring that most medical care is provided in the community.
Imti Choonara, a paediatrician from Derby, leads a delegation of international health professionals at annual workshops in Cuba’s third city, Camaguey. “Healthcare in Cuba is phenomenal, and the key is the family doctor, who is much more proactive, and whose focus is on prevention ... The irony is that Cubans came to the UK after the revolution to see how the NHS worked. They took back what they saw, refined it and developed it further; meanwhile we are moving towards the US model,” Professor Choonara said.
Politics, inevitably, penetrates many aspects of Cuban healthcare. Every year hospitals produce a list of drugs and equipment they have been unable to access because of the American embargo which prevents many US companies from trading with Cuba, and persuades other countries to follow suit. The 2009/10 report includes drugs for childhood cancers, HIV and , some anaesthetics, as well as chemicals needed to diagnose infections and store organs. Pharmacies in Cuba are characterised by long queues and sparsely stacked shelves, though in part this is because they stock only generic brands.
Antonio Fernandez, from the Ministry of Public Health, said: “We make 80 per cent of the drugs we use. The rest we import from China, former Soviet countries, Europe – anyone who will sell to us – but this makes it very expensive because of the distances.”
On the whole, Cubans are immensely proud and supportive of their contribution in Haiti and other poor countries, delighted to be punching above their weight on the international scene. However, some people complain of longer waits to see their doctor because so many are working abroad. And, like all commodities in Cuba, medicines are available on the black market for those willing to risk large fines if caught buying or selling.
International travel is beyond the reach of most Cubans, but qualified nurses and doctors are among those forbidden from leaving the country for five years after graduation, unless as part of an official medical team.
Like everyone else, earn paltry salaries of around $20 (£13) a month. So, contrary to official accounts, bribery exists in the hospital system, which means some doctors, and even hospitals, are off-limits unless patients can offer a little something, maybe lunch or a few pesos, for preferential treatment.
Cuba’s international ventures in healthcare are becoming increasingly strategic. Last month, officials held talks with Brazil about developing Haiti’s public health system, which Brazil and Venezuela have both agreed to help finance.
Medical training is another example. There are currently 8,281 students from more than 30 countries enrolled at Elam, which last month celebrated its 11th anniversary. The government hopes to inculcate a sense of social responsibly into the students in the hope that they will work within their own poor communities for at least five years.
Damien Joel Suarez, 27, a second year from New Jersey, is one of 171 American students; 47 have already graduated. He dismisses allegations that Elam is part of the Cuban propaganda machine. “Of course, Che is a hero here but he isn’t forced down your neck.”
Another 49,000 students are enrolled in the El Nuevo Programa de Formacion de Medicos Latinoamericanos, the brainchild of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, who pledged in 2005 to train 100,000 doctors for the continent. The course is much more hands-on, and critics question the quality of the training.
Professor Kirk disagrees: “The hi-tech approach to health needed in London and Toronto is irrelevant for millions of people in the Third World who are living in poverty. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise the quality, but if you were living somewhere with no doctors, then you’d be happy to get anyone.”
There are nine million Haitians who would probably agree.
December 30, 2010
December 29, 2010
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to agree to the request that you made for me to send a message to the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students that is taking place in the Homeland of Nelson Mandela, the living symbol of the struggle against the odious apartheid system.
Cuba hosted two world festivals: the 11th in 1978 and the 14th in 1997.
For the first time, the Festival ceased to be held in Europe and took place in a country in this hemisphere.
The decision was made by the 9th Assembly of the World Federation of Democratic Youth which was held in Varna, Bulgaria at the end of 1974.
Those were different times: the world was facing serious problems, but ones that were less dramatic. The more progressive youth was fighting for the right of all human beings to a decent life; the old dream of the greatest thinkers of our species when it was clear that science, technology, the productivity of labour and the development of consciousness was making it possible.
In a brief lapse of time, globalization accelerated, communications reached unsuspected levels, the means to promote education, health and culture multiplied. Our dreams were not without foundation. In that spirit, the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students took place and our people also took part in it.
At the General Council of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, held precisely in heroic South Africa at the beginning of October in 1995, it was approved to hold the 14th Festival in Havana; 12,000 delegates from 132 countries would be taking part. Our country at that time had been struggling for almost 37 years in the political and ideological battle against the empire and its brutal economic blockade.
Until the decade of the 1980s, not only were the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea in existence who had been withstanding genocidal wars and the crimes of the Yankees, but also the socialist bloc in Europe and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, an enormous multinational State with 22,402,200 square kilometres, enormous resources of agricultural lands, forests, oil, gas, minerals and more. Face to face with the imperialist superpower, with its more than 800 military bases deployed throughout the planet, the socialist superpower was surging.
The dissolution of the USSR, whatever the errors may have been at one or another moment in history, constituted a rough blow to the world’s progressive movement.
The Yankees moved quickly and spread their military bases and the use of facilities constructed by the USSR in order to encircle more tightly, with their war machinery the Russian Federation which continued to be a great power.
The military bravado of the United States and its NATO allies increased in Europe and Asia. They unleashed the Kosovo War and disintegrated Serbia.
Within the area of our hemisphere, even before the collapse of the USSR, they invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965; they bombed and intervened in Nicaragua with mercenaries; their regular troops invaded Grenada, Panama and Haiti; they promoted bloody military coups in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay and supported Stroessner’s brutal repression in Paraguay.
They created the School of the Americas where they were not only training thousands of Latin American officers in conspiracies and coups d’état, but they were also familiarizing many with doctrines of hate and sophisticated torture practices while they were presenting themselves to the world as champions of “human rights and democracy”.
In the first decade of this century, the imperialist superpower appears to be overflowing its own riverbanks.
The bloody events of September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers of New York City were destroyed -a dramatic episode where around 3,000 persons lost their lives- and the subsequent attack on the Pentagon, fit like a glove on the hand of that unscrupulous adventurer George W. Bush for him to orchestrate the so-called war on terrorism that constitutes, simply, a dangerous escalation of the brutal policy that the US has been applying on our planet.
There has been more than sufficient proof of the embarrassing complicity of the NATO countries in such a reproachable war. That warmongering organization has just proclaimed its aim to intervene in any country in the world, wherever it feels that its interests, that is, US interests, are being threatened.
The monopoly on the mass media, in the hands of the huge capitalist transnationals, has been used by imperialism to sow lies, create conditioned reflexes and to develop egoistical instincts.
While the youth and students were travelling to South Africa to fight for a world in peace, with dignity and justice, in Great Britain university students and their professors were waging a pitched battle against the considerable and well-equipped repressive police who, on their spirited horses, were attacking them. There have been few times, and perhaps never, that we have seen such a show of capitalist “democracy”. The neoliberal governing parties, exercising their role of the police force of the oligarchy, betraying their electoral promises, passed measures in Parliament that raised the yearly fees for university students to $14,000. The worst of it all was the nerve with which the neoliberal parliamentarians stated that the “market was resolving that problem”. Only the rich had the right to a university degree.
A few days ago, the present US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, commenting on the secrets divulged by WikiLeaks stated: “The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. [...] some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation”.
Not a few intelligent and well-informed people harbour the conviction that the Yankee Empire, like all those coming before it, has entered its final phase and that the signs are irrefutable.
An article published on the TomDispatch website, translated from English by the Rebelión website presents four hypotheses about the probable course of events in the United States, and in all of them, world war appears as one of the possibilities even though it does not exclude that there may be another option. It adds that definitely that country will lose its dominant role in world exports of goods and in less than 15 years it will lose its dominant role in innovative technology and the privileged function of the dollar as the reserve currency. It quotes that already this year China has reached 12% in comparison to the US 11% in world exports of goods and it mentioned the presentation in October of this year by the Chinese Minister of Defence of the Tianhe-1ª super-computer, something so powerful that, in the words of an American expert, “it wipes out the No. 1 machine” existing in the United States.
Our dear compatriots, upon arriving in South Africa, among their first activities, paid fully-deserved tribute to the internationalist combatants who gave their lives fighting for Africa.
Fort the last 12 years, in neighbouring Haiti, our medical mission provides its services to the Haitian people; today, with the cooperation of the internationalist doctors graduated from ELAM (the Latin American School of Medicine). They also fight there for Africa by doing battle against the cholera epidemic, the disease of poverty, to prevent its spreading to that continent where, just like in Latin America, there is a lot of poverty. With their acquired experience, our doctors have extraordinarily lowered the death rate. Very near to South Africa, in Zimbabwe, in August of 2008, that epidemic broke out “explosively”, according to the Harare “Herald”. Robert Mugabe accused the governments of the United States and Great Britain of introducing the disease.
As proof of the total lack of Yankee scruples, it is necessary to remember that the government of the United States delivered nuclear weapons to the apartheid regime; the racists were at the point of using them against Cuban and Angolan troops which, after the victory at Cuito Cuanavale, were advancing southward, where the Cuban command, having suspicions about that danger, adopted the pertinent measures and tactics to give them total control of the air space. If they should try to use such weapons, they wouldn’t have obtained victory.
But it is legitimate to wonder: what would have happened if the South African racists had used nuclear weapons against the Cuban and Angolan troops? What would the international reaction have been? How would such a barbaric act have been justified? How would the USSR have reacted? These are questions we must ask ourselves.
When the racists handed over the government to Nelson Mandela, they didn’t say a single word to him, nor did they say what they did with those weapons. Investigation and the denunciation of such events would be of great service to the world, at this time. Dear compatriots, I urge you to present this topic at the World Festival of Youth and Students.
Patria o Muerte!
Labels: young workers
by Stephen Von Sychowski
Since Spring, young worker volunteers have been hitting the streets, malls, campuses, transit stations, and public events of BC’s lower mainland to build the Employee Action & Rights Network (EARN). The Network, which is supported by the BC Federation of Labour, is the result of months of energetic work by youth who have fought for a higher minimum wage, improvement to workplace safety legislation, and better employment standards. Now, they are taking that fight to those who suffer the most because of the Campbell Liberal governments pro-corporate, anti-worker, and anti-youth policies in these areas; the unorganized.
Under the slogan “Make Work Better,” EARN volunteers have been taking their five question survey on workers’ rights to the public. They aim to educate workers about their rights and entitlements, build the Network by recruiting new members, and encourage members to get active and involved. While most activities have been in the lower mainland so far, plans to expand EARN into Prince George and across the province are in the works.
EARN is gearing up in the coming months to “Blow the Whistle on Bad Bosses,” who are violating the Employment Standards Act. The message to employers is clear; respect the rights of your employees, or risk hearing from EARN. Actions against “bad bosses” could range from simply providing advice and assistance to workers on how to pursue a complaint, to “information lines” (similar in appearance to picket lines), media campaigns, and public shaming, depending on the situation and the wishes of the worker, or workers, making the complaint. The identity of the employee who has contact EARN for assistance will be kept confidential in order to avoid targeting by the employer.
The Employee Action & Rights Network is open to all working people in British Columbia who are not already represented by a labour union. It’s free to join, and confidential. For more information on EARN, check out www.earnbc.ca
The YCL BC Committee has recently published a 42 page pamphlet entitled Common Questions Asked by Youth About Communism.
Common Questions Asked by Youth About Communism strives to answer the most frequently asked inquiries of young people about the ideas and policies of communism. It also discusses the YCL, what it is, why it is important, and why progressive youth should consider joining.
Topics covered include:
- What is Communism?
- Myths about Communism?
- What is capitalism and how do we beat it?
- Does Socialism Work?
- Socialism in Canada
- Communists, the NDP, and Reforms
- The YCL
- Why Join the YCL?
It also includes the YCL's programmatic document, the Declaration of Unity and Resistance.
Common Questions can be obtained here for $10 per printed copy or $5 per ebook download. All income from the sale of Common Questions returns to the YCL to help fund our campaigns and activities.
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