Cuba’s Medical Internationalism

As state governments and  Union government are spending less and less on health, it has become an area of super profit. Private hospitals and nursing homes are mushrooming throughout the country, only to force ordinary people to seek medicare beyond their means. Behind the publicity blitz, all these super-speciality hospitals are literally slaughter-houses, looting the people like anything. Governments have very little control over them. The much touted slogan of ‘‘Health for all by 2000 AD’’ now mocks at itself. Transformation of medicine has undergone sea-changes, just in a decade or so, to the disadvantage of vast majority of people. The apt slogan may be ‘‘Health for a few’’ who can afford high-cost medicine in five-star looking hospitals equipped with imported costly equipments which are sometimes unnecessary and managed by inefficient doctors who are at worst mercenaries. In contrast Cuba, a tiny island nation, has shows the world how ‘health for all’ can be made a reality. What is more they are the shinning example of medical internationalism.

Cuba's medical intervention in international health crises is unparalleled among nations. This outstanding legacy of Fidel Castro demonstrates what can be achieved when a very high value is placed on human life, every human life.

Many people will never hear about how at the end of 2016 on December 19, 38 medical professionals from Cuba's Henry Reeve Brigade returned home after more than two tireless months of treating Haitians. They were sent to lend support to Cuba's permanent medical teams in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Following the death of 90-year-old revolutionary Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016 corporate media has been fixated on depicting Fidel as the mastermind of a two-dimensional "dictatorial regime". For those with a three-dimensional perspective, however, Fidel Castro's death provides an opportunity to celebrate victories from the 56 years of the Cuban Revolution for which many people around the world are profoundly grateful and even owe their lives.

Reports from Haiti, Chernobyl, West Africa, New Orleans and many other places recount the extraordinary contributions of what some call Cuba's "medical internationalism". In 2014 there were 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses working in 60 developing countries, according to the research of Canadian author John Kirk published in his book "Cuban medical internationalism has saved millions of lives". But this unparalleled solidarity has barely registered in the western media. Not much is heard about it even in a third world country like India, where tragic medicare system beggars description.

In 1999 Cuba founded the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) and offered 10,000 scholarships to students "in countries where Cuban medical teams were assisting the local health systems.... The idea behind the ELAM is for graduates to eventually replace the Cuban doctors in their countries" according to MEDICC, a non-profit which promotes Cuba's public health programme.

The ELAM currently has 19,550 students from 110 countries, making it one of the largest medical schools in the world. All students receive a full scholarship. The ELAM includes the US in its outreach, among youth aspiring to become doctors from the ranks of the "global south" within the north. More than 100 US students have attended the ELAM for free, in exchange for a non-binding promise to serve low-income communities for two years upon their return.

In fact, the Cuban medical team in six months post-earthquake Haiti provided more than 341,000 patient consultations, 8,700 surgeries, 111,000 vaccinations, and many other forms of cure to hundreds of thousands. In addition, according to Gail Reed, international director of MEDICC, approximately 550 Haitians have graduated from ELAM and nearly 300 of Haiti's doctors present in the country at the time of the earthquake were trained on full scholarships in Cuba, another side of Cuba's medical internationalism.

While corporate media has ignored stories of Cuban medical internationalism championed by Fidel Castro, much of the world recognises that Cuba's achievement transcends geopolitics altogether. With Fidel now gone, will humanity strive to follow the example the Cuban revolution has so courageously shown?


Vol. 49, No.37, Mar 19 - 25, 2017