Vol. 74/No. 10 March 15, 2010
BY CINDY JAQUITH
With thousands in Haiti still in critical need of medical care, the U.S. government is pulling out the doctors it is responsible for. Meanwhile, the Cuban government is expanding its medical mission to Haiti and urging doctors from other countries to join it.
On February 24 the last U.S. field hospital in Haiti closed. The USNS Comfort, the much-publicized Navy medical ship docked in Haiti, is also pulling up anchor.
An article in the Wall Street Journal noted that an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of those who had emergency surgery done since the January 12 earthquake will need to have more operations. “New cases of diarrhea, malaria and other diseases are picking up in tent communities crammed with tens of thousands of people who lost their homes,” it added. The dangers will mount as the rainy season produces major flooding.
These facts have not persuaded most doctors from the United States and other imperialist countries who went to Haiti after the earthquake to stay there for more than a few weeks. They are now “back in their antiseptic, high-tech offices,” the New York Times said, “haunted by the experiences.” Cuban doctors, on the other hand, are digging in for the long battle that lies ahead.
“The major challenge begins now, when the press headlines abandon Haiti, the moment of emergency is over, and the supposed ‘threat’ of a wave of emigration is diminishing,” said Cuban president Raúl Castro in a February 23 speech to the Summit of Latin American and the Caribbean Unity, held in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Haiti doesn’t need “a fleeting and sudden gesture of ‘charity,’” he said. It “requires and deserves a major international effort for its reconstruction.”
Castro reported that the Cuban medical mission in Haiti has now grown to about 1,430, spread throughout the country. It is called the Henry Reeve International Brigade, named after a U.S. man who joined Cuba’s independence war in the late 19th century. The brigade includes nearly 800 Cuban doctors and other health-care workers, as well as Cuban-trained doctors from Haiti and more than two dozen other countries.
Since the earthquake, the Cuban mission has treated more than 95,000 Haitians and performed 4,500 surgeries. It is now focusing the medical mission on advancing the long-term health system in Haiti. According to the Cuban daily Granma, the Cubans are building two new hospitals outside Port-au-Prince, the capital, in areas where health care had been practically nonexistent.
Graduates from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine as well as current students there are at the center of this effort. They number 637 and come from 27 countries.
Granma interviewed one of these graduates, Marcela Vera, from Colombia. As soon as the earthquake struck she wanted to go to Haiti to help. She was turned down by many aid organizations. Doctors Without Borders told her she needed to know French. The Red Cross demanded two years’ experience. But when the Latin American School of Medicine called her, “she was only asked to do her best and do it well,” Granma said. Forty-eight hours later she was on her way to Haiti.