Update on Honduran physician Luther Ware & Garifuna Hospital

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We have received the following update from MEDICC about the situation at the Garifuna Hospital in Honduras.  We feel it’s important to keep international attention on the situation in this hospital, particularly since the US government’s anemic response to the June 28th coup has been criticized in an 8/11/2009  New York Times Op-Ed piece as providing further evidence of “Obama’s failure in the hemisphere.”

Garifuna HospitalAugust 11 – Despite objections by local Garifuna communities, Honduras’ defacto government is moving to take over the first and only Garifuna-managed hospital in the country, ousting its current staff. The facility-built by Dr. Luther Castillo, other Garifuna doctors, local architects, and the communities themselves-is located in the remote coastal municipality of Iriona.

Last week, says Dr. Castillo, the defacto ministry of health notified hospital staff that the facility was being downgraded to a health center “under new management”. “They told us that the Garifuna staff-both doctors and locally-trained nurses aides-will be fired,” he told MEDICC. “These measures would condemn to death many of our old and seriously ill people, and stop all outreach and prevention services.”

However, he said the staff is staying put, and vows to continue working, even without the small stipend the government had provided in the past and with no guarantee of medicines or vital supplies.

“We will not abandon our people,” said Dr. Castillo. “These are the poorest of the poor, the invisible poor.. They are the real victims of the coup,” he told MEDICC.”And they are the reason so many of our young people decided to become doctors in the first place.”

Some 300 representatives of local Garifuna governments gathered last week to support the hospital and its staff, and have declared they will not recognize the defacto government’s takeover move.

The Garifuna hospital officially opened in December 2007, under an agreement with the government of President Manuel Zelaya, and in accordance with an International Labor Organization covenant that supports locally-managed health services for indigenous and tribal peoples. Since then, according to Dr. Castillo, the ten Garifuna doctors staffing the hospital have treated over 175,000 cases. The physicians-all graduates of the Latin American Medical School in Havana-attend patients at outlying clinics and on regular home visits. The original government agreement permitted this medically underserved region to rely on hospital services, including birthing, surgeries, hospitalization, dental care and laboratory tests.

Dr Luther WareSince 1999, Luther Castillo has directed the Luaga Hatuadi Waduheñu Foundation (“For the Health of our People” in Garifuna), dedicated to bringing vital health services to isolated indigenous coastal communities. After his 2005 graduation from the Latin American Medical School in Havana, Dr. Castillo returned to the Honduran coast, where he led construction of Honduras’ first Garifuna Rural Hospital, now serving some 30,000 in the surrounding communities. The hospital opened in December 2007, just months after Dr. Castillo was named “Honduran Doctor of the Year” by Rotary International’s Tegucigalpa chapter. “Thank you for inspiring me,” said California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, speaking at the hospital’s opening ceremony.

The hospital and its community health outreach are supported by a number of U.S. and other international organizations, including the Sacramento, California Central Labor Council, Global Links, The Birthing Project, and MEDICC.  Several US medical schools also have cooperative arrangements with the Garifuna hospital, including Johns Hopkins, Emory, Charles Drew and University of California (SF). Eight Cuban physicians and nurses also provide specialized services and academic training at the hospital.

A few weeks before the coup, Dr. Castillo was named director of International Cooperation in the Honduran Foreign Ministry. Since July 3rd, he has been included on a list of persons whose lives and safety were declared “at risk” by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Take Action Now:

MEDICC is joining other U.S. organizations such as Global Links (www.globallinks.org) to stand with the staff and over 30,000 patients of the only Garifuna Community Hospital in Honduras.

Here’s what you can do:

1) DONATE to keep the hospital alive.  Your donation to Honduras’ First Garifuna Hospital will help pay small stipends to physicians and nurses’ aides, and help stock the hospital with essential medicines and supplies. (Donate Here)

2) SPEAK UP! Take this message to your city council, labor union, student or professional organization, asking them to pass a resolution in support of the Garifuna Indigenous Hospital in Honduras. Send these resolutions to us, and publicize them in your local media and on the web.

3) GET READY TO GO on a delegation to Honduras as a “Witness for Health” to help guarantee the safety and rights of the Garifuna hospital staff. More information coming soon..

4) Urge the US government to act: Contact the White House, the State Department and your Congressional representatives. Press them to use the US government’s influence to guarantee respect for the lives of Dr. Castillo, his colleagues and all those protesting the coup. State Department: 202-647-4000 or 1-800-877-8339. White House: Comments: 202-456-1111, Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Contact your Senators here: www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Contact your Congresspeople here: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

5) Keep Honduras in the public eye: Circulate this alert widely. GO ON THE WEB: use your blogs, listservs and networks to get the word out.

posted by Matt Anderson, MD

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