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Vol. 74/No. 4      February 1, 2010

Cuban doctors in Haiti
respond rapidly to crisis
Cuban doctors already stationed in Haiti when the January 12 earthquake struck were the first to begin treating the injured. The response of Cuba’s revolutionary government, which rapidly boosted its medical personnel in Haiti in the wake of the disaster, stands in sharp contrast to the callous indifference of Washington, the governments of other wealthy nations, the United Nations, and various aid groups.

After the earthquake Cuban medical personnel reopened three hospitals in Port-au-Prince, set up field hospitals—including one in the courtyard of the Cuban volunteers’ living quarters near the National Palace—and converted an eye clinic into a medical center to treat injuries.

Some 60 medical specialists in natural disasters arrived from Cuba the day after the earthquake to reinforce the effort under way by 344 Cuban medical volunteers. On January 16, 32 Haitian doctors who graduated from medical school in Cuba arrived to join the contingent. The Cuban government has also flown in 10 tons of medical supplies.

CNN reporter Steve Kastenbaum tried to find functioning hospitals in Port-au-Prince. In a January 17 broadcast he noted that La Paz Hospital, operated by the Cubans, is one of “the few places ordinary Haitians can turn to” to get urgent care. “It’s amazing to see,” Kastenbaum said, they’re treating “six to seven hundred patients a day.” The Cuban doctors keep three operating rooms running 24 hours a day, he noted.

The discipline, efficiency, and solidarity demonstrated by the Cubans inspired some Chilean and Spanish medical workers to ask to join the Cuban teams.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was present, on the other hand, when Belgian doctors and nurses abandoned 25 patients overnight in a mobile hospital, including three who had just undergone surgery, after hearing rumors of rioting in the area. The Belgians took their supplies with them. One Haitian nurse refused to leave. The Belgian medical personnel only returned the next day when the United Nations agreed to provide security.

A team of 267 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Haiti January 15 but sat at the airport for two days because they were waiting for military “escorts” to take them into the city.

Cuban medical aid to Haiti goes back to 1998, when Cuban volunteers arrived to treat victims of Hurricane George. Since then more than 3,000 Cuban volunteers have helped provide medical care under an agreement with the Haitian government.

The Cubans repaired broken medical equipment, opened up health centers, immunized more than 370,000 people, arranged for eye operations for more than 41,000 patients, and helped lower the infant mortality rate in many parts of the country.

Since 1999 Cuba has trained 544 Haitians as doctors at Cuban medical schools. According to the daily Juventud Rebelde, some 200 Haitian graduates of these schools are working with the Cuban volunteers in Haiti to treat quake victims.

Gonzalo Estévez Torres, a leader of the Cuban medical brigade in Port-au-Prince, told Juventud Rebelde that many Haitians are still in shock from the earthquake. The brigade will be working with the Haitian doctors graduated in Cuba to prepare people for the problems they will face in the weeks ahead.
Related articles:
Haiti: U.S. gov’t fails to provide needed aid
Working-class areas last to get attention
Open the border to Haitian refugees
Latest attack on Cuba falsifies history of fight against racism
Defend the Cuban Revolution!  
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