Blue Helmets in White Uniforms: Cuba’s Doctors in Haiti

Fernando Ravsberg*

1HAVANA TIMES — An epidemic of enormous proportions has broken out a few kilometers away from Cuba and the United States – a tragedy the UN is comparing to the Ebola outbreak in Africa. In Haiti, cholera has already caused 8,813 deaths, and as many as 725,608 people are thought to have been infected since 2010. Last year, 30 thousand new cases were reported.

“We’re facing the worst cholera epidemic in the Western Hemisphere. This is the worst health crisis today. We need more capacity to prevent new cases and care for the ill,” said Pedro Medrano, UN coordinator of the Haiti cholera campaign.

“The support we’ve had from Cuban medical brigades has been exceptional,” the expert recognized, adding that he is visiting Cuba in search of greater assistance from the island (which currently has 650 health professionals permanently based in Haiti).

“We are looking to broaden South-South cooperation and we will be approaching the diplomatic bodies of other governments, such as Norway and Chile, which are currently supporting our work through Cuba,” Medrano explained.

Pedro Medrano: “The Cuban government has given us guarantees that the work of its medical brigades in Haiti will continue.”
Pedro Medrano: “The Cuban government has given us guarantees that the work of its medical brigades in Haiti will continue.”

Medrano tells us one of the most severe problems they face is the worldwide vaccines shortage, and that he has high hopes set on the vaccine Cuba is developing, which has already shown very good results in an international experiment.

“It is still being validated, but the results are very positive. Some protocols report an 80 to 90% effectivity rate, and the vaccine is designed for the same strain we find in Haiti. We were told it is very close to being patented and that production will start soon after.”

Vaccine stocks in the market are always very limited. The reason is that they are generally not produced to supply populations in risk zones but for use by those who visit these from other countries and have greater purchasing power.

They explain that, today, vaccines are very expensive and beyond the reach of those nations that need them most, but they believe that, owing to its “spirit of solidarity”, Cuba plans on producing these at prices that are affordable for populations living in high risk zones.

“We would buy the vaccines, though we’re not ignoring the possibility of a bilateral cooperation programs. The important thing is to know that we will have enough vaccines,” the UN envoy said, adding that they are also looking for countries to finance production in Cuba or to commit to buying the vaccines for Haiti.
Cuban medical professionals are stationed across the country and work next to Haitian colleagues.

“We want to vaccinate some 300 thousand people this year, we need to work in prevention, and that’s one of the ways to do that,” Medrano pointed out and added that “the issue goes beyond vaccination. We need medical attention, which greatly increases the chances of saving a patient’s life.”

“Cholera isn’t what’s killing people. The great problem in Haiti is that people are dying because they never make it to a medical center, they never get adequate treatment. That is why we need to strengthen our mobile health teams,” said the UN representative.

“The Cuban government has given us guarantees that the work of its medical brigades will continue. We are also thinking of taking advantage of Cuba’s experience in preventive work through community education,” indispensable in a country that doesn’t have enough sanitation systems, where only 77% of the population in cities has access to drinking water and less than 50% in the countryside.

“The way to eradicate cholera is to make drinking water and sanitation available, but, at the current development rate, Haiti will need 40 years to catch up to the rest of Latin America. The issue has to do with poverty, but, since we can’t wait until the root problems are solved, we have to take action against the epidemic now.”

At the UN’s request, Cuba sent nearly 300 health professionals to Haiti, many of them medical doctors.

Cuba is becoming one of the UN’s “blue helmets”, intervening in health crises around the world, but we shouldn’t lose from sight the fact that, though the island’s human resources are many, its economic ones are highly limited.

Developed countries that do not have the capacity to deploy a medical brigade to work out in the field on a permanent basis could finance Cuba’s health campaigns, as the Norwegian government in Haiti is doing today, for instance.

Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal [in the talks with the United States] announced that Havana and Washington plan to set up a commission to review the issue of cooperation in the health sector. Haiti could prove the perfect stage for such cooperation, considering the danger posed by the potential spread of the epidemic and the geographical proximity of the three countries.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

6 thoughts on “Blue Helmets in White Uniforms: Cuba’s Doctors in Haiti

  • The most disgraceful and tragic aspect of this news, was missed by the author, not known by some commentators and intentionally hidden by others.

    The facts are not only the negligible support the United States government provides to these humanitarian projects around the world, it is compounded in the case of Haiti, where millions of dollars which was donated by government and institutions around the world after the devastating earthquake of 2010, is mostly misused and unaccounted for by the Clinton Foundation.

    Far worse has been, the monstrous program conceived, financed and developed by the US State Department, euphemistically known as the Cuban Medical Parole Program, which their leader brags about in Miami, as having lured over 8 thousands Cuban Physicians away from humanitarian missions in the neediest region in the world.

    Dumped as spoiled produce in South Florida, thousands of these frustrated professionals have lost their right to practice medicine through a bunch of State and Federal Regulations, which no one told them prior to leaving their patients in Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Venezuela o Surinam.

    Today they can be found doing every menial job behind a restaurant counter, supermarket produce section, driving a tractor trailer or learning how to rip-off Medicare in the Capital City of Medicare Fraud in the US.

    If the United States really cared about the pain, suffering and deaths in Haiti or anywhere else, these physicians, who are not allowed to practice in the US until they complete Boards and other requirements they never will, the least the US government should do, is offer them a decent salary -not US physicians 6 figures- hire them and allow them to restore their professional life, by serving those in need in Haiti, Colombia or in hundreds of underserved migrant, native Americans, Black and Latino neighborhoods in the United States.

  • Jesus, if he really existed , spoke only Aramaic and died long before the English we use was developed.
    Allah speaks only Arabic which is why all Islamic prayers are said in Arabic and not in the language of a given Islamic country.
    These imaginary supernatural beings you believe in sure do not speak Mandarin or Tagalog .

  • Cuban doctors in Haiti work in hospitals built and equipped by the US government, US charities and other charities. They are supplied by the same sources.
    Without the rest of the international cooperation they would have no impact.
    Helping Haiti is a joint effort.

  • While Cuba’s medical missions to Haiti have certainly saved thousands of lives, the missions are not purely humanitarian, nor are they funded by Cuba. Naturally, the propaganda aspect of these missions is fully exploited by the Cuban government.


    “Cuba quickly tapped into international funds to pay
    for its medical mission in Haiti. In 2003, Cuba’s
    Ambassador to Haiti praised the “triangular program
    to fight AIDS with France and other programs with
    the Pan American Health Organization and
    UNAID.” But, the assistance was more encompass-
    ing. A Cuban doctor who served in Haiti from July
    2002 to September 2003 said the full range of com-
    prehensive medical services he provided at a moun-
    tain clinic were funded by France.44 In 2006, Cuba
    received funds from France for a vaccination effort in
    Haiti plus two million doses of vaccines donated by

    “Norway had donated to Cuba 5 million Norwegian
    Crowns (US$850,000) for the cholera response.”

  • In nominal terms, Americans are the most generous people on the planet. American doctors leave otherwise highly profitable opportunities to volunteer for missions in third world countries. Taking nothing away from the services provided by Cuban doctors, Castro’s dictatorship pays them crap to live and work in their own country so it comes at not surprise that so many of them are available to work in such desperate conditions around the world. For these Cubans doctors, it has nothing to do with altruism. It is a chance to buy a new TV, maybe a car. I agree with you remarks about American football. If you aren’t a ‘Niner fan, you ain’t civilized. By the way, Jesus is multilingual.

  • In the best of all worlds , the Cubans could train and send out tens of thousands of doctors all around the world where need and they could be financed by the very wealthy United States except that the very wealthy United States only donates some .07 percent of GDP to charitable causes and they really don’t want to cut in or otherwise downplay for-profit health care providers .
    Besides , these people in these Third World hellholes need to become capitalists and hire good capitalist doctors .
    This providing care for people without the money to pay is just encouraging dependency.
    And they need to learn English and all about American football to become civilized too.
    If English was good enough for Jesus ( he speaks English in my Bible) , it’s good enough for them. .

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