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Unmatched Altruism

Cuban Medical Collaboration Program

More than 85 million people have been seen by Cuban medical personnel, with an estimated 615,000 lives having been saved to date. This solidarity reaches all continents.

After 45 years of existence, the Cuban Medical Collaboration Program continues as a model and a cornerstone of the nation’s international policy, as well as one the highest forms of altruism ever showed to sister nations.

Currently, more than 36,500 collaborators of the health system, including professionals and technicians, offer their services in 73 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa; the number of countries will rise to 81 in 2008.

Throughout all these years, they have saved an estimated 614,383 lives, seen 85,099,737 patients, and they have performed 221,712 surgeries.

Such amazing figures show the magnitude of the message of peace, love and solidarity taken by the Cuban professionals to every corner of the globe, despite the race, faith or ideology of the patients, fully respecting the law and customs of the territories where they work.

In the first month of 1959, Fidel Castro outlined the precepts that would lead us to institute this kind of collaboration as one of the basic principles governing Cuba’s foreign policies.

The definite step, however, was not taking until 1963, when the first International Medical Brigade departed for Algeria. The brigade was made up by 58 professionals who worked in that country for 14 months.

At the time, Algeria had just gained its independence from the French metropolis; the regime bequeathed the country an impoverished public health situation.

Although back then Cuba did not have an organized and strong healthcare system —the country had just emerged from a similar situation— the country answered to the request for help made by the Algerian government.

Solidarity taken to the most remote places

That was the beginning of a journey that continues into the present, saving lives in the most remote and obscure places in the world.

In 1998, after Hurricane Mitch hit many Central American countries — particularly Honduras y Guatemala— leaving a horrendous trail of death and missing people, an Integral Healthcare Program (PIS) was organized. Its benefits extended to almost all the countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Cuban doctors also work in immunization campaigns and in prevention programs against AIDS in areas where they offer their services.

Likewise, in September 2005 the Henry Reeve Internationalist Brigade was created. The brigade, named after an American volunteer who fought for independence of Cuba in the 19th century, is formed by doctors specially trained to work assisting victims of natural disasters and severe epidemics. 

This brigade has accomplished important missions, such as those in Guatemala after the passing of Hurricane Stan; in Pakistan, after the powerful earthquake that affected the north of that nation in 2005; in Bolivia during the disastrous floods they suffered; and more recently in Peru, after the earthquake that took place in 2007.

Specialized disaster brigades

This brigade originated from an idea of Commander-in-chief Fidel Castro, who conceived of it to give special attention to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the US city of New Orleans. The US government rejected the free help offered by Cuba, although they didn’t have the means to address the healthcare service requirements of the victims.

However, Cuba’s only concern is not temporarily easing the pain of those in need, the Caribbean country also takes care of developing the necessary human resources, which greatly benefit these sister nations.

That is the reason why in 1961 Cuban included in its cooperation policy for education, the granting of scholarships to many students from underdeveloped nations. This concept materialized in the creation of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), one of the highest expressions of the principles of solidarity that form the ethical grounds of the

Cuban medical collaboration program and of a considerable part of the Integral Healthcare Program.

More than 3,000 students have graduated from that institution, and another 10,000 from 28 nations are currently studying there.

Worth mentioning also is Operation Milagro, a Cuban-Venezuelan project aimed at healing curable ophthalmic diseases.

This one-of-a-kind program started in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in 2004 with the objective of restoring the eyesight of six million Latin Americans. By early 2008, the program had already benefited one million people, and the number of centers for ophthalmologic surgery donated by Cuba to these country rose to 37.

Cuba’s achievements in the health sector are renowned around the world. For example, its high levels of life expectancy (at 77 years of age), and its low rates of infant mortality (5.3 for every thousand live births) are accomplishments that compare favourably with those of developed countries like the United States.

In addition, there is a wide variety of health programs designed to protect citizens, especially children. The latter, for instance, enjoy an immunization program whose quality equals those of the most developed countries of the world and has been praised by the World Health Organization.

On May 28 begins the most recent vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis, one of the diseases eliminated in Cuba after 1959. This time nearly 500,000 children will be immunized. 

There is also one doctor for every 158 inhabitants, a figure typical of highly-industrialized nations.

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