Polly Mann> Cuban doctors heroic work in Haiti

Cuban doctors heroic work in Haiti

by Polly Mann    Published February 5, 2012

Cuba is still under U.S. applied sanctions, but this hasn’t prevented its doctors from saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. A particularly spectacular operation has been in Haiti, a victim of hurricane Katrina as well as a victim of corrupt governments and a 20-year U.S. occupation by the U.S. military ostensibly to “prevent anarchy” but in reality to protect U.S. business. Cholera followed Katrina to Haiti in October of 2010. A year later cholera killed 6,600 people and sickened more than 476,000 – nearly 5% of the nation’s 10 million people.

World famous Dr. Paul Farmer, the UN deputy special envoy to Haiti sounded an early alarm about the situation: “Half the non-governmental organizations are already gone and the Cubans are still there.” Cuban doctors have worked in Haiti since 1998 when 100 arrived after a hurricane. Since then Cuba has worked with Haiti and Venezuela and lately Brazil, Norway and other countries to build and provide staff and equipment for several dozen small community hospitals, clinics and other treatment centers. 

This program has also been an important source of foreign currency for Cuba, with earnings from the export of medical services, including 37,000 health workers overseas, estimated at more than $2 billion. Cubans typically ask host countries to pay a sliding scale that averages $2,500 per doctor per month. But Haiti is one of the few countries that has not been charged. The doctors’ salaries are meager by U.S. standards, roughly $500 per month . However, they do not pay room and board abroad and they get to travel the world – a perk few Cubans are allowed. 

Cuba provided Haiti the largest amount of aid following the January 2010 earthquake. Since the cholera outbreak, the mission has treated more than 76,000 cases of the disease with just 272 fatalities – a much lower ratio than the average across Haiti as a whole. 

After Hurricane Katrina, the Cubans offered to send 1,500 doctors to the United States. The United States never replied. (Could it be they never got the message?) Regardless, the Cubans asked the U.S. to help finance a $30 million major hospital for specialists in Haiti that would be staffed in part by Cuban doctors. But after intense rounds of talks no deal has been arranged. 

In the meantime, medical scholarships which include room, board and tuition are available to U.S. students available through Pastors for Peace.

 — abridged from a New York Times article of Nov. 8, 2011

Polly Mann is a co-founder of Women Against Military Madness.

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