Cuban Doctors in Haiti

Here’s a report by scholar Mark Rushton and Marcel Hatch of Cuba Education Tours on Cuba’s ongoing world mission to help its sisters and brothers in Haiti and some background on past efforts there and beyond:

The violent quake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, was also felt in eastern Cuba, some 400 kilometers from the epicenter. Fortunately there are no reports of serious damage or injury in Cuba. In a precautionary move, Cuba evacuated 30,000 people in anticipation of a tsunami. Cuba has had over 400 doctors stationed in most Haitian communities for years offering free medical services to Haiti’s impoverished masses. Indeed the first and only doctor some 90 percent of Haitians have ever seen until now was Cuban. In 2009, Cuban medical teams were operating in 227 of 337 Haitian towns and villages – making them a cornerstone of Haitian health care.

On January 14, 2010, at the same time the US announced the deployment of 5,700 troops to quell potential civil unrest in Haiti resulting from the quake, Cuba readied and began to dispatch tons of medical equipment and supplies together with 1,000 more doctors to provide emergency medical treatment and longterm rehabilitative care. Cuban doctors were first on the scene in Port-au-Prince, setting up a tent hospital to serve the wounded adjacent to the collapsed 700 bed national hospital. Cuban medical staff has done the same in small towns overlooked so far by the American and international aid efforts. Cuba’s solidarity with Haitians also includes free tuition and residency costs for young Haitians learning to become doctors at Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Four hundred have graduated to date and work in Haiti. An equal number currently study in Cuba.

Havana has waived island overflight prohibitions for US military and humanitarian aircraft en route to Haiti – a risky humanitarian gesture considering past hostile airspace violations by the US. When New York was hit by 9/11 terrorists in 2001, and again when Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans in 2005, Cuba was the first nation to offer help, volunteering hundreds of doctors at no cost. Both overtures where nixed by then president G.W. Bush. The “Henry Reeve Brigade” disaster specialist medical team was borne out of the Katrina tragedy. Three month’s later in December, 2005, when the Kashmir, Pakistan quake killed 75,000, the Henry Reeve Brigade, comprised of 2,500 medical volunteers were on the scene for six months saving countless lives among the wounded.