Emergency Earthquake Appeal: Support Cuban-Trained Haitian Doctors

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We have received an appeal from our friends at MEDICC who are providing support to Haitian doctors in Haiti who have been trained in Cuba.  This is a particularly important effort since it strengthens the local medical infrastructure; these Haitian doctors will remain in place long after the disaster relief ends. And it also breaks with the mainly paternalistic (and subtly racist) presentation of Haitians as the passive recipients of help provided by outside agents.  [A link to be donate, can be found here.]

Cuban Medical Assistance in Haiti

There are currently about 400 Cuban-trained Haitian doctors working in 120 communities around Haiti, including Port-au-Prince.  As graduates of the Latin American Medical School in Havana (ELAM) these doctors typically come from the poorest regions of Haiti and have studied medicine to serve Haiti, not to emigrate to the US (where the majority of Haitian-trained doctors work).  They are accompanied by a 370-person Cuban medical mission which has been working in Haiti for several years.

The work of the Cubans and Haitians in the past week is described in these video feeds from CNN’s Shasta Darlington and Steve Kastenbaum. To quote from the Kastenbaum report:

“There are so few places where ordinary Haitians can turn to when they are in need of urgent medical care in the center of the city.  We came across one: La Paz hospital. It is now being administered by Cuban medical personnel here in Haiti alongside crews from Spain and Latin America. And it is amazing to see.  They are giving medical attention—quality medial care—to severely injured people, six to seven hundred patients a day, several dozen surgeries a day. They have three theaters going around the clock, 24-7, and it is one of the only places deep in the city where Haitians can go and be treated and have a reasonable expectation of surviving.

We saw so many traumatic injuries there. I can’t even say how many amputations we saw, compound fractures, traumatic flesh wounds.  Yet, these overwhelmed medical teams were finding ways to take care of all of them, despite being very low on critical supplies—sutures, oxygen, anesthetics, water—they need all these things. Their supply lines stretch all the way back to Spain, and it’s being sent in. And it is being done in a remarkably orderly fashion.”

[The Portal has provided information about US students studying at ELAM who have also agreed to return to medically disadvantaged areas in the US.]

Providing support through MEDICC & Global Links

MEDICC, the Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, has paired up with Global Links to organize a recovery and long-term medical assistance program for ELAM-trained Haitian doctors. Both organizations have decades of experience in regional material aid cooperation, and with Cuba and Haiti in particular. They will be working with representatives of the Haitian graduates to identify needs for medicines, medical supplies, and equipment. And they will get these supplies directly to them.

While US law does not allow Cuban doctors in Haiti to receive these essential medical materials–the US embargo is taking its toll post-disaster–MEDICC and Global Links will ensure distribution to the young Haitian physicians working in public hospitals and clinics alongside the Cuban team, seeing hundreds of patients daily.

To quote from MEDICC”s appeal:

We need your help to raise the funds for this joint effort–and to raise the policy bar by replacing hostility towards Cuba with cooperation when it comes to the health of the hemisphere–Haiti deserves nothing less. And Haiti’s young doctors need your support now.

For more information, see www.medicc.org, where you can also donate online to the HAITI EARTHQUAKE APPEAL. Or send your check to:  MEDICC, PO Box 361449, Decatur, Georgia, 30036.  Note at bottom: HAITI APPEAL.

MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) is a 501 (c) (3), not-for-profit organization; your donation is tax-deductible.

Here is a direct link to donate.

The Political Economics of Public Health

Much has been made of the disastrous health and social conditions in Haiti.  It is important to keep in mind that these conditions did not develop in a vacuum.  Paul Farmer, in an April 8, 2004 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, documented the links between political violence and the public health in Haiti.

This political violence was often the result of outside interference, most prominently by the US.  Commondreams.org has published several articles discussing this from which we quote the following (written by Peter Hallward):

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Aristide’s own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.

Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

it should be noted that the 2004 coup was the second overthrow of Aristide by international forces.

A different perspective on Haiti, can be found at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the Haiti Information Project and – for those who read French – Haiti Liberte & Haiti Progres.

Finally, one long-lasting step towards Haitian reconstruction would be cancellation of its foreign debt (click here to sign a petition asking for this).  In fact, one of Aristide’s many political sins was calling for the French to return the money that Haiti had been forced to pay the ex-slaveowners in order to gain recognition by France.  For another twist on this story, see Bill Quigley’s “Why the US owes Haiti Billions: The Briefest History.”

Matt Anderson, MD

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1 Response to “Emergency Earthquake Appeal: Support Cuban-Trained Haitian Doctors”

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