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Vol. 74/No. 48      December 20, 2010

Cubans lead campaign
to fight cholera in Haiti
(feature article)
The Cuban government has more centers to treat cholera in Haiti than any other government or non-governmental organization there. Now it is greatly expanding its medical mission.

An additional 300 doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are joining the 965 members of the Cuban Medical Brigade, bringing the total Cuban contingent in Haiti to more than 1,200. Cuba is also expanding its 37 medical centers to 49 and adding 1,100 hospital beds.

Two hundred members of the contingent are graduates of Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM), which trains students from all over the world, including Africa and the United States, free of charge. Hundreds of Haitians have also been trained at the school; many of them are now collaborating with the Cuban medical mission.

As of December 2, an estimated 84,000 Haitians had been infected with cholera; nearly 1,900 have died in the six weeks since the first case was confirmed. The countryside has been much harder hit than the capital city Port-au-Prince.

The group Doctors Without Borders has 30 cholera centers, more than a third of them in Port-au-Prince, with doctors from several European countries. Cuba operates some centers jointly with Doctors Without Borders, the United Nations, and other aid groups.

Most of the Cuban-run centers operate in rural areas, often in the most isolated and difficult to reach parts of the country. The mortality rate for cholera victims treated by the Cuban brigade is less than 1 percent; for the rest of the private, Haitian government, and international-run centers it is about 3 percent.

One Cuban brigade is in L’Ester village, in the Artibonite region where the cholera outbreak began. When health workers there learned that dozens of people in the even more isolated Plateau hamlet were severely ill, they quickly sent nine people, including five doctors and two nurses, to set up a treatment center. Four of the doctors, from Uruguay, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Haiti, are ELAM graduates.

In a letter to family and friends, published in the on-line CubaDebate, Emiliano Mariscal, describes how the mission functions and why the death rate at the Cuban-run centers is so low. He is an Argentine doctor who graduated from ELAM and is volunteering with the Cuban mission in Haiti.

According to Mariscal, the Cuban brigade has trained 15,000 Haitians on how to deal with the cholera outbreak. In addition, he explains, the Cuban doctors have been in Haiti “without interruption for more than 12 years, generating empathy and confidence among the population that does not exist with other forms of cooperation.”

Mariscal also touches on the powerful example of having a revolutionary workers government in power in Cuba. “The experience of practically 50 years of internationalist action,” he writes, has inspired young people from around the world with the “conception of solidarity” practiced by Cuba.

Cuba’s aid to the Haitian people stands in sharp contrast to the inaction of the U.S. government. A November 15 article on a U.S. State Department Web site said that the U.S. embassy was working to “enhance their surveillance system” in Haiti for reporting cholera cases. In addition Washington is “helping to support seven cholera treatment centers in Port-au-Prince,” the article said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control will soon be conducting a survey to determine how residents of that city “obtain and store water.”
Related articles:
Call to widen fight to free Cuban Five
Internationalism in Africa: ‘A duty fulfilled’
Washington’s underestimation of Cuban Revolution  
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