By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA—When Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake last Jan. 12, there were already around 400 Cuban doctors and other health workers working all over the country, present in 227 of Haiti’s 237 communes.
“Our solidarity with Haiti did not begin after the earthquake,” said Enna Valdes, Cuba’s newly-designated Chargé d’ Affaires to the Philippines, in an interview. “It has been going on for more than a decade.”
After the earthquake struck, the Cuban health professionals in Haiti immediately responded, and for the next 72 hours the earthquake victims would be receiving medical assistance mainly from them.
On Jan. 13, an additional group of 60 doctors and health workers joined the work in Port au Prince, the Haitian capital. The group included a number of specialists belonging to the Cuban government’s Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specializing in Disasters and Serious Epidemics, an organization created in 2005 to honor an American-Cuban soldier who had fought on the Cuban side in the Ten Years’ War against Spain.
By Jan. 14, they had served 1,987 patients, including 11 who underwent surgery, in five Integral Diagnostic Centers that had been set up years before the earthquake.
Within the same week a sixth point of care was set up in the commune of Delmas, near Port au Prince, and the Cuban doctors and health immediately got down to work there. They continue to set up tent hospitals outside of Port au Prince.
By Jan. 18, the Cuban medical brigade had attended to more than 18,000 patients in Haiti. Among other things, they had performed more than 1,700 surgeries – of which 800 were complicated. “And the numbers continue to rise,” said Valdes.
Aside from these they are now also carrying out a health protection campaign throughout Haiti. This includes a tetanus vaccination campaign, which in a short span of time has administered some 400,000 vaccinations. They are also doing fumigation to control outbreaks of disease, and teams of physiotherapists have also been sent to help in the victims’ recovery process.
What these Cuban doctors and health workers have accomplished in a short time is by all indicators a feat – considering that the earthquake had affected no less than three million people based on estimates by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); that it had claimed around 170,000 lives as of Jan. 27, according to Haitian President Rene Preval; that it had destroyed 220,000 residences and 20,000 commercial buildings as of Jan. 28, based on a report from The New York Times.
Valdes said that the 400 Cuban doctors and health workers now working in Haiti are among the 6,094 who had been sent to Haiti since 1998. These health professionals have collectively worked at more than 14 million doctor visits and performed more than 225,000 surgeries, done more than 100,000 deliveries, and saved more than 230,000 lives, she said.
“Cuba started sending doctors and other health professionals to Haiti in 1998 through the Comprehensive Health Program,” Valdes said.
Cuba’s Comprehensive Health Program, or CHP, came into being in the wake of Hurricanes Georges and Mitch, which had battered the Caribbean and Central America in the fall of 1998 – leaving 30,000 either dead or missing, and rendering 2.4 million others homeless.
Within days after the onslaughts of Georges and Mitch, Cuba had sent some 2,000 to Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua. There, the Cuban doctors would come face-to-face with a shocking reality: that for millions upon millions in these countries, the first access to medical assistance came after the hurricanes.
This led the Cuban government to develop a health assistance and solidarity program which focuses not only on relief, but also on sustainability. With this was born the CHP, which was implemented at first in the Caribbean and Central America, but was later extended to South America, and to as far as Asia and Africa.
“Under the CHP, government-to-government accords deploy Cuban health care professionals for remote and under-served populations in each country, mainly family doctors; and Cuba also offers six-year medical school scholarships to young people from these same areas to study at the Latin American Medical School,” writes journalist Gail Reed, who is also international director of the non-government Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (Medicc), in an article for the organization’s website. “The hope is that the graduates will return home to replace the Cuban physicians. Hence, sustainability.”
Apart from the Cuban health professionals now in Haiti and doing medical assistance work, there are also some 240 Cuban-trained Haitians involved in the effort.
There are also some 660 more Haitians who are now studying in Cuba under the CHP, of whom 541 are being trained to be doctors.
The CHP, Valdes said, is but one of the many ways by which Cuba’s solidarity with other peoples of the world is expressed.
“We have a very clear policy of helping people in need, and to share our efforts, and to bring our solidarity and cooperation,” she said. “This is a principle of our Revolution.” (Bulatlat.com)