Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES – Every Cuban doctor on their way back from Brazil has been overcome by two extremely antagonistic emotions: joy and sadness.
On the one hand they were faced with this country’s president-elect’s threats and insults, Jair Bolsonaro questioning the qualifications of Cuban professionals who were taking part in the “Mais Medicos” program that was pushed forward by former president Dilma Rousseff in coordination with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The program included doctors from Brazil and other countries, with the majority coming from Cuba.
Joy because they are returning home and will see their familes and work colleagues again, but sadness too because they will have to abandon their patients, many of whom are in the middle of being treated for a variety of diseases and who might die if they fail to receive medical attention. High poverty rates in all of the areas where the Cuban doctors were working prevents them from being able to access Brazilian medical services because it is too expensive.
Cuban doctors are telling countless anecdotes upon their return to the Homeland about the extreme poverty that exists in this vast country’s rural areas, or in the favelas in large cities, places where Brazilian doctors do not want to go and work.
Statistics provided by Cuba’s Public Health Ministry in a statement released after Cuba’s participation in the Mais Medicos program ended, agreed with the Pan American Health Organization, are extremely telling.
“Over five years of work, approximately 20,000 Cuban collaborators attended to 113,359,000 patient visits in over 3600 municipalities, seeing up to 60 million Brazilians. The Cuban doctors made up 80% of the total number of doctors involved in this program. Over 700 municipalities had a doctor for the first time in history.
“Cuban doctors’ work in extremely poor places, in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador de Bahia, in the 34 Special Indigenous Health Districts, especially in the Amazon, was widely recognized by the Federal, State and Municipal governments in this country and by its people, 95% of whom accepted the project, according to a study carried out by Minas Gerais Federal University at the Brazilian Health Ministry’s request.
“It isn’t acceptable that Cuban collaborators’ dignity, professionalism and altruism are being called into question, who are serving in 67 countries, with the support of their families. They have completed 600,000 missions abroad in 164 countries over the past 55 years, which have involved the participation of over 400,000 health professionals who have taken on this honorable task on more than one occasion. Their feats include the fight against ebola in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean, cholera in Haiti and the participation of 26 brigades of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade of Physicians Specialized in Disasters and Serious Epidemics in Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, to name a few.
“The Cuban government has assumed the costs of the overwhelming majority of these missions. Similarly, 35,613 health professionals from 138 countries have been trained in Cuba, as an expression of our solidarity and internationalism.”
It’s a well-known fact that Mr. Bolsonaro was always against implementing the Mais Medicos program because he doesn’t care about the health and wellbeing of the poorest people in his country at all, much less its indigenous peoples in the Amazon, who have never had this service available to them and won’t from now on either.
Tears streamed down both patients and doctors’ cheeks in their sad farewells. Mothers who have seen their children die from curable diseases and Cuban doctors have saved their other children suffering from the same disease, feel helpless now that Cuban doctors are leaving.
A book needs to be written one day that collects all of the experiences of Cuban doctors amid extreme poverty in that big country, where great wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few privileged people and multinational corporations. These are the “good things” about Latin American capitalism, which some outdated people want to establish in Cuba again.