Archive for the 'Cuba' Category

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, 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. 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

Community Health Care in Cuba

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On September 27th 2009, Dr. Joan Beder, Dr. Susan Mason, and Joyce Wong, CSW spoke at Social Medicine Rounds on Community Health Care in Cuba. Drs. Beder and Mason have recently published a book of the same title which we have reviewed on the Portal (see: New Book on the Cuban Health Care System).

Breast Cancer in Cuba

IMG_0537Dr. Joan Beder began with a discussion of her work with breast cancer patients. Dr. Beder is a professor of social work at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University. She has an interest in oncology services and specifically services for women with breast cancer. She began her talk by pointing out some of the contradictory aspects of work in Cuba. Cubans have guaranteed rights to health and education; this something that we did not have in the US. Yet it was clear walking around Havana that Cuba is  an impoverished country where food was rationed.

Dr. Beder noted that the Cuban system provided essentially the same treatment options – chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery – that were available to patients in the US. But the supply of drugs was quite limited. Breast cancer screening programs had been impacted by the US trade embargo; the Cubans could not obtain the best mammography film and equipment because it was produced in the US. As a consequence higher than necessary doses of radiation were used in mammography.

Dr. Beder was asked by the  Cubans to provide some guidance on helping women with the psychosocial consequences of breast cancer. She worked with the Federation of Cuban Women which runs a series of Women’s Centers where breast self-examination and mammography are promoted. Initially they considered setting up a self-help hotline for breast cancer survivors. This turned out to be problematic due to the deficiencies of the Cuban system; people may not always have access to a phone in a private setting.  Her work led her to undertake a training program  in the special needs of oncology patients for Cuban social workers.

She concluded by pointing out that cancer is now the second leading cause of death in Cuba; cardiovascular disease is number one. Cognizant of this, the Ministry of Health has begun a special national program to train doctors in the prevention and early detection of cancer.

Schizophrenia and Mental Illness

Susan Mason teachingDr. Susan E. Mason is also a professor of social work at Yeshiva University; in addition she is  a professor of sociology and the chair of the college departments of sociology and political science. Her area of expertise is schizophrenia and she is the co-author of Diagnosis Schizophrenia: A Comprehensive Resource for Patients, Families, and Professionals, a fascinating book which uses patient stories to describe what it is like to have schizophrenia.

The Cuban approach to mental illness also has been shaped by a context where resources are limited and medications are in short supply; again, this is due – in part – to the effects of the embargo. Psychosocial treatments have been emphasized and mental health is based on three principles: community, prevention, integration. Arts and music programs are valued and accepted as mental health interventions. She described with a mixture of amusement and admiration how official meetings might be interrupted for a short break allowing the participants (“even the Ministers”) a chance to sing and dance. (It was later suggested that this would be a great idea for hospital rounds).

Care for mentally ill patients was often provided by social workers who live in the same community as the patient and make house calls as needed. When patients needed more supervision, family members were paid to stay at home and care for them. When a family member was not available, patients were placed in a foster home.  Since family members (or foster families) were paid, patients with mental illness were not typically viewed as an economic burden for their family or community.  Dr. Mason shared some pictures of a day program run from a private home. The atmosphere was quite domestic and she remarked: “It feels like you just want to hang out there.”

Did this model work? Dr. Mason expressed frustration that despite the theoretical advantages of this community model for psychiatric care, there was really no hard outcomes data to demonstrate that it was effective.

A Healing Environment

joyce wongJoyce Wong is a social worker at a Bronx community health center where she works primarily with South East Asian immigrants. She grew up in Washington Heights in a community that was largely Cuban and later traveled to Cuba to visit Havana’s Chinatown. This had once been one of the largest “Chinatowns” in the Western Hemisphere. With emigration, the population has dwindled considerably and now consisted primarily of the elderly.

In Chinatown, she interviewed elderly men to learn how they had managed to survive in Cuba after leaving their homes in China. She found the men relied on ethnic pride and identity, maintaining their language, and consciously suppressing painful memories. She described this not as a form of repression, but rather as a conscious decision to look for happiness and self-healing.

Ms. Wong made a short film about her trips to Cuba, a place she felt was a “healing environment.” La Magia de Cuba (Cuba’s Magic) is a montage of music and photos and is available on Picasa at this  link.


To read more about this work, please consult Drs. Mason and Beder’s book: Community health care in Cuba.

The situation of Cuban patients, denied access to the best possible care because of the US trade embargo was denounced by Amnesty International in September. Readers interested in learning about the health impacts of the embargo should consult their report: The US Embargo against Cuba: Its Impact on Economic and Social Rights.

posted by Matt Anderson, MD

Update from US Student Joanne Mae Souers, studying medicine in Cuba


Joanne Mae Souers, a New York State resident studying medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, sent us this report on her activities:

Dr. Nelson Gonzalez on Rounds

Dr. Nelson Gonzalez on Rounds

The Hospital is Our Classroom; The Patient is Our Professor

As third year students at the Latin American School of Medicine the hospital is our classroom and the patients are our professors. We spend our days practicing patient histories and physical exams to tune and then retune our clinical skills.  Students from the U.S. and several Latin American countries rotate at Hospital Salvador Allende in central Havana.   Students from all over the world can be found at teaching hospitals all across Cuba.

Our first semester focuses on clinical medicine, physical exams, and the relationship built between the doctor and the patient.   This is where we step out of the classroom and into the “operating” room as they might say; where medicine starts with “hello.”  From the minute your patient walks in the door, you are required to take notes on what signs and symptoms they might reveal to help you develop a good differential diagnosis.

Currently, I am at the Antonio Guiteras Unit of Internal Medicine run by Dr. Nelson Gonzales, a Specialist in Internal Medicine.  Every day we are tested on our knowledge of the pathological alterations in the physical exam. We see patients, go on rounds and learn first-hand how a patient is received, examined, diagnosed and treated throughout their stay.

I find our exposure to patients and first-hand clinical experience a essential counterpart to our classroom knowledge.  We are constantly applying our skills and seeing new clinical cases.  Recently we were addressing cases of dengue fever to control and quarantine a small outbreak in Havana and now we are focusing primarily on cases of suspected H1N1 influenza in adults with compromised health status.

If that isn’t enough patient exposure, fear not, we are on a weekly rotation at the hospital’s walk-in clinic where we see “walk-in” cases and learn from doctors making quick, accurate diagnostic calls.  Some of these cases are automatically hospitalized if they come in with severe health conditions requiring admission to the intensive care unit or those who present public health risks and need to be quarantined.  Examples of cases quarantined are those who present fever from areas endemic to dengue or present symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and pertain to one of the three risk groups of H1N1: pregnant women, children and/or patients with respiratory illnesses.

me behind the mask

Medical Student Souers

I look forward to my third year at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, where we learn to practice medicine on the bases of altruism, honor and sacrifice as a commitment to society.  It is the patient that teaches us medicine; it is the hospital that sets the stage.   Dr. Nelson Gonzales profoundly states that he is not such an altruistic being just based on character, but because of his formation as a doctor in Cuba.

New issue of Social Medicine (V4N3) Just Published

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Social Medicine, our open-access, online academic journal has just published its latest issue. Here is a brief summary of the articles all of which are available for free at and (in Spanish).

Children in post-Civil War Nepal singing revoutionary songs

Children in post-Civil War Nepal singing revoutionary songs

Special Theme: Social Medicine & War

For this special theme issue on Social Medicine & War, Dr. Vic Sidel served as guest editor. His lead editorial (co-authored with Dr. Barry Levy) examines the diversion of resources to war and the preparation for war.

Quoting from their introduction to the three original research articles about war, Drs. Sidel and Levy write:  “Dr. Andrea Angulo Menasse, a researcher from Mexico City’s Autonomous University, documents the very personal story of how the violence of the Spanish Civil War affected one family. In her case study the trauma suffered by Spanish Republicans is traced through three generations and crosses the Atlantic Ocean as the family moves is exiled in Mexico. Dr. Sachin Ghimire from the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health of the Jawaharlal Nehru University reports on his fieldwork in Rolpa, Nepal, the district from which the Nepal Civil War (also called the People’s War) originated in 1996. Based on 80 interviews, he documents the difficulties faced by health care workers as they negotiated the sometimes deadly task of remaining in communities where control alternated between Nepalese Special Forces and the Maoist rebels. Finally, Colombian researcher, Carlos Iván Pacheco Sánchez, from the University of Rosario in Bogota, brings an epidemiologist’s tools to examine the impact of the ongoing armed conflict in the border Department of Nariño. His discussion is informed by the current debate over health care in Colombia where a recent Constitutional Court decision has found that the current health care system violates the right to health.”

Closing the Gap: Where are we one year later

a87ad0d1a8In August of 2009, the WHO’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health issued a bold call to eliminate health disparities within a generation. Three articles in this issue look at what has – and has not – happened in the intervening year. Our second editorial examines the international response to the Commission’s call. José Carlos Escudero explores the meaning of the report for the WHO and underscores the report’s limitations. A detailed critique of the report, along with an alternative approach to addressing health inequities, is offered by Dr. Anne-Emanuelle Birn. Dr. Birn’s critique is especially important for offering important historical background by exploring how Europeans in the 19th century – notably Louis-René Villermé, Edwin Chadwick, and Friedrich Engels – each approached the social disparities that arose during the Industrial Revolution.

The Peckham Experiment

peckhamhealthcentreWe are also very pleased to publish three classic texts describing the Peckham Experiment, an innovative community center built in England during the Depression. The Pioneer Health Center was designed around the idea of studying (and fostering) what makes people healthy, rather than what makes them sick. Imagine that!

Please visit the journal and explore the breadth, depth and scope of social medicine past and present. Along with some suggestions for the future.

posted by Matt Anderson, MD

Amnesty International Calls for an End to US Embargo on Cuba

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We wanted to share this press release from MEDICC:

embargo cartoon Neubecker_CubaSeptember 2, 2009:  An Amnesty International report released today recommends an end to the US embargo on Cuba, which it says has imposed severe social and economic hardship on ordinary people on the island. The report (The US Embargo against Cuba: Its Impact on Economic and Social Rights) concludes that the sanctions have endangered the health of millions and denied them access to important medicines and medical technologies.

Amnesty’s 28-page findings cite supporting evidence from UN agencies, as well as MEDICC and earlier research carried out by the American Association for World Health, which Amnesty called “still the most comprehensive study on the issue” (Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo on Health & Nutrition in Cuba).

“The US embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, calling on US President Barack Obama to “distance himself from the failed policies of the past” by taking immediate steps to begin dismantling its restrictions.

In a CNN interview about the report, MEDICC International Director Gail Reed commented: “…the embargo has a sweeping effect on Cuban healthcare. Over the past decades, I would say the people most affected have been cancer and HIV-AIDS patients.” She also said the embargo affects the way Cuban physicians think about the future: “Doctors in Cuba always worry that an international supplier will be bought out by a U.S. company, leaving medical equipment without replacement parts and patients without continuity of medications.”

Amnesty found that the embargo also threatens children’s health by restricting Cuba’s ability to import nutritional products for schools, hospitals and child care centers, contributing to a high prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia. And it notes that children’s health was also put at risk by a decision from US suppliers to cancel an order for three million disposable syringes made in 2007 by UNICEF’s Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization upon learning the units were destined for Cuba. Similar situations have affected implementation of UN programs to prevent and manage HIV/AIDS on the island.

Finally, the Amnesty report called on the US Congress to repeal US embargo legislation, a necessary step since under current law, the President’s powers to ease restrictions are limited.

New Book on the Cuban Health Care System


CommunityHCareinCubaSMLWe wanted to bring a new book –  Community Health Care in Cuba, edited by  Susan E. Mason, David L. Strug, and Joan Beder – to the attention of readers of the Social Medicine Portal.

Interest in the Cuban health care model has grown over the years and despite ongoing changes in Cuban society, the pride and satisfaction Cuban citizens take in their health care system suggest that it will likely prevail in post-Castro Cuba. Susan E. Mason, David L. Strug, and Joan Beder have edited this collection of essays by contributors who are respected professionals in Cuba and the United States. Community Health Care in Cuba examines the closely integrated Cuban system in which community representatives, nurses, doctors, social workers, and other health care specialists work together to meet the health care needs of all Cuba’s citizens. The collection features a first-hand look into the country’s highly successful, integrated, and prevention-oriented health care model and includes interviews with the director of Cuba’s National Medical Sciences Information Center (INFOMED) and the president of the Cuban Society of Social Workers in Health Care. Placing Cuba at the forefront as a model of international health care, this book illustrates how Cuba, despite its economic constraints, is able to deliver high-quality care to its citizens from a local to national level.

This is one of the few English-language books to provide a comprehensive view of Cuba’s community-oriented health care program.  Based on observations and interviews by Cuban contributors or those who have made recent trips to Cuba, it addresses a wide variety of health care topics in social work, nursing, medicine, and public health

About the Editors:
Susan E. Mason (PhD, Columbia University; MSSW, Columbia University) is professor of social work at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, professor of sociology, and chair of the college departments of sociology and political science. She has written many articles and book chapters on mental health, social service utilization and workforce efficacy. She is co-editor of Diagnosis Schizophrenia: A Comprehensive Resource for Patients, Families, and Professionals.

David L. Strug (PhD, Columbia University; MSW, Hunter College; MPH, University of California at Berkeley) is professor of social work at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York City and is also a clinical social worker in private practice. He has traveled frequently to Cuba to do research on older persons, the development of social work, and community-oriented health care. He wrote with Jeanne Lemkau Love, Loss and Longing: The Impact of U.S. Travel Restrictions on Cuban-American Families.

Joan Beder (PhD, Yeshiva University; MSW, Adelphi University) is professor of social work at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York City and maintains a clinical practice in Long Island. She is the author of Faces of Bereavement: A Casebook for Grief Counselors and Medical Social Work: The Interface of Medicine and Caring.

posted by Matt Anderson (co-author of the chapter on Medical Education in Cuba)

Social Medicine Volume 4 Number 2: Economic Crisis, Social Determinants, Participation & more

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We have just published a new issue of Social Medicine/Medicina Social, our bilingual, online journal.  It is available in both English and Spanish.  Our 13th issue touches on several important issues in world health including the current economic crisis and the WHO Commission’s on the Social Determinants of Health.  And, of course, the stories of activists like the young US students (shown below) studying medicine at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana.  They will be traveling in the Southwest US this summer to discuss their experiences with the American Indian community:

SSWE group shot (7 x 3)

The Economic Crisis and Public Health

Barry S Levy, Victor Sidel

The current global economic crisis seriously threatens the health of the public. Challenges include increases in malnutrition; homelessness and inadequate housing; unemployment; substance abuse, depression, and other mental health problems; mortality; child health problems; violence; environmental and occupational health problems; and social injustice and violation of human rights; as well as decreased availability, accessibility, and affordability of quality medical and dental care. Health professionals can respond by promoting surveillance and documentation of human needs, reassessing public health priorities, educating the public and policymakers about health problems worsened by the economic crisis, advocating for sound policies and programs to address these problems, and directly providing necessary programs and services.  Full Text: PDF

An Interview with Sir Michael Marmot

The Editors

In August of 2008 the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health concluded its work with the publication of a report entitled: “Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health.” The Commission’s chair, Sir Michael Marmot, was kind enough to answer our questions about the Commission’s recommendations. This interview was conducted by email in May of this yea

Social Medicine: We congratulate the Com-mission on its excellent work in bringing attention to the social determinants of health and the Commission’s call for health equity. We appreciated the Commission’s recognition that: “Social Justice is a matter of life and death.” We were also happy that the Commission included representatives of civil society in their work. This was an important affirmation of democratic values.
When thinking about health inequalities people often use the analogue of the ladder to show how the gradient of worsening health outcomes affects all people in society except (presumably) those at the very top. Thinking about the ladder leads us to pose the following question: Is making the ladder shorter (i.e. reducing inequalities) the only approach to inequalities or is it possible to imagine making the ladder disappear entirely?

Sir Michael Marmot: All societies have hier-archies. It is not conceivable, therefore, to have a society with no ladder. The conceptual framework of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health leads us to think of at least two (linked) ways to address the relation between position on the ladder and health: act at the societal level to reduce social inequalities, and break the link between position in the social hierarchy and health.

The first argues for reducing the slope of the social gradient. To see this, suppose, just for a moment, that the ladder were defined on the basis of years of education. People who had three years or fewer had life expectancy of 50 years, those who had 13 years or more had life expectancy of 80 and the rest were ranged in between in a graded way: the social gradient in health. Now if we had a societal change so that everyone had at least 10 years of education, and better health followed as a result, the magnitude of health inequity would be reduced. We have reduced inequities by making the ladder shorter. […]Full Text: PDF

Participation and empowerment in Primary Health Care: from Alma Ata to the era of globalization

Pol De Vos, Geraldine Malaise, Wim De Ceukelaire, Denis Perez, Pierre Lefèvre, Patrick Van der Stuyft

With the 1978 Alma Ata declaration, community participation was brought to the fore as a key component of primary health care. This paper describes how the concepts of people’s participation and empowerment evolved throughout the last three decades and how these evolutions are linked with the global changing socio-economic context.

On the basis of a literature review and building on empirical experience with grass roots health programs, three key issues are identified to revive these concepts: The recognition that power, power relations and conflicts are the cornerstone of the empowerment framework; the need to go beyond the community and factor in the broader context of the society including the role of the State; and, considering that communities and society are not homogeneous entities, the importance of class analysis in any empowerment framework. Full Text: PDF

Latin American Social Medicine and the Report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health


In October 2008 the Latin American Social Medicine Association (ALAMES) organized an international workshop entitled “The Social Determinants of Health.” Representatives of ALAMES’ seven regions participated in discussions of the various consultative papers prepared by the working groups of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health as well as the Commission’s final report. The workshop considered how ALAMES should respond to the work of the Commission. In this paper we summarize the main points outlined in the position paper prepared by the Organizing Committee1 as well as a synopsis of the main contributions made by each of the workshop’s study sections.  Full Text: PDF

For the full Table of Contents visit:

posted by Matt Anderson, MD

Upcoming International People’s Health University (IPHU) short courses: India, Morocco, Cuba


imageFrom our Friends at the People’s Health Movement: USA Circle

PHM and IPHU are pleased to announce the upcoming IPHU courses in India (September 21-30, 2009), Morocco (September 21-30, 2009) and Cuba (November 4-14, 2009). For details and registration, go to US health activists are encouraged to attend.

The International People’s Health University (IPHU) is one of the major programs of the People’s Health Movement. IPHU is a global university providing short courses and other resources for health activists. Courses are of a high academic standard and are documented for academic credit from established universities. IPHU short courses enable younger health activists, in particular, to make new connections, share experiences and study together. IPHU short courses strengthen the global network of people’s health activists.

Morocco –, in French and Arabic, Fes, Morocco
India –, in English, Bangalore. This course is focused on Health and Equity.
Cuba –, in Spanish and English, Havana

Action alert: Honduran physician Luther Harry Castillo menaced with arrest

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Dr. Luther Harry CastilloWe have been asked by our friends at MEDICC to pass on this action alert regarding Dr. Luther Castillo, a Honduran physician who has been threatened with arrest in the wake of the recent coup. Dr. Castillo, a member of Honduras’ Garifuna community, was one of the first graduates from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).  After receiving his MD degree he returned home and constructed the first Garifuni rural hospital.  Dr. Castillo was featured in the film Salud and you can read an interview with him in English at this link.

July 7, 2009—The life of Dr. Luther Castillo, indigenous Garifuna physician in Honduras, is in imminent danger. MEDICC has learned that the Honduran army has orders to capture Dr. Castillo, and if he resists, to shoot him.  He was already included on a list of persons whose lives and personal integrity were declared “at risk” by a July 3rd communiqué from the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We have been able to verify that Dr. Castillo’s cellphone communications have been cut.  The last conversation with him took place at approximately 2:30pm today, in which he reported on continued demonstrations demanding the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya, despite security forces’ repression.

Just weeks ago, Dr. Castillo was named director of International Cooperation in the Honduran Foreign Ministry. Since 1999, he 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.


Call the White House and the State Department, urging the US government demand:

  • safety for Dr. Castillo, his colleagues, and all persons protesting the coup,
  • an end to the repression, and
  • the unconditional return of constitutional President Manuel Zelaya.

State Department: 202-647-4000 or 1-800-877-8339
White House: Comments: 202-456-1111, Switchboard: 202-456-1414

More Background
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 20,000 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).

Dr. Castillo is featured in ¡Salud! (, a documentary film that received the Council on Foundations Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Digital Media (USA). MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba),, is a US non-governmental organization working to enhance cooperation among the U.S., Cuban and global health communities aimed at better health outcomes.
posted by Matt Anderson, MD

Update from US students studying medicine in Cuba (June 2009)


SSWE group shot (7 x 3)

Here is the latest update from from Joanna Mae Souers, one of the US students studying medicine on scholarship in Cuba:

June 2009

Today there are 148 American students studying medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana.  They study within Cuba’s world-renowned system of universal health care.  Despite Cuba being a “poor” country, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the Cuban system among the top 10 in the world.  They study thanks to a scholarship provided within the same system of humanitarian medical  solidarity that has placed more than 21,000 Cuban doctors in poor third-world countries.

The 148 students originate from some of America’s poorest and most medically under-served communities. After graduating they plan, in line with the encouragement of the Cuban Government and our own Congressional Black Caucus, to serve the very same under-served communities from which they came.

As students attending ELAM we, have been given an opportunity to do something that has never been done before. On July 26, 2009, 12 American students from ELAM will board an RV for a road-trip of the Southwestern United States. Together we will spend two weeks as humble guests visiting Native American reservations, neighboring communities, hospitals and colleges to spread the word about our medical school opportunity and foster an exchange of information between all participating groups.

As we approach the one month mark in our countdown to departure we are motivated, poised, and excited about the road ahead us.  We are busy preparing for the exchange; writing up the material we hope to present, learning about the different communities we plan to visit and organizing our curriculum of exchange with guidance from our community liaisons.  So far we hope to visit with the following communities and organizations:

As students, we want to thank the following individuals and organizations for all of their support and guidance during the process of organizing this exchange.

We extend a special thank you to all of our donors and supporters for making this exchange possible, and we want to encourage further support.  We are just short of meeting our proposed budget and we hope to make that happen to make this tour possible!  We need your support, please check out our link ( and donate now!

Visit our website for more information on the exchange!

sent in by Joanna Mae Souers
Escuela LatinoAmericana de Medicina
Carretera Panamericana
KM 3,5
Santa Fe, Playa
Ciudad de la Habana, CUBA
CP 19108