Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cuban Heroes

UK’s The Independent featured a Nina Lakhani story on December 26, 2010 about 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 neighbor 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.
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John Kirk, a professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University, Canada who researches Cuba's international medical teams 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."
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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.
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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.

I am not just wanting to salute this monumental contribution of the Cubans but rather to also suggest that Malaysia could send students to Cuba for medical training. Obviously Cuban doctors and healthcare workers are really special – not only have they demonstrated their medical prowess but also that they are imbued with a strong sense of social responsibility. We can certainly learn from Cuba.

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