Cuba’s “All-Terrain” Doctors Arrive in Brazil

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cuban medical brigades are working in 58 different countries.  Photo: Raquel Perez
Cuban medical brigades are working in 58 different countries. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES —This past weekend, Brazil welcomed the first 400 of a contingent of 4,000 Cuban medical doctors, hired to provide health services to populations living in the remotest and poorest areas of the Latin American giant.

Brazil’s doctors association opposes the measure, but the administration of Dilma Rouseff considers it a matter of public interest and a social issue of the highest priority.

Sectors of the country’s opposition accuse Brasilia and Havana of subjecting Cuban doctors to “slave labor”, pointing to the fact the Cuban government takes a considerable part of their earnings.

In any event, a number of volunteers have reported that salaries will be higher than in other missions. It is said they will be around US $1,600 a month, a considerable sum of money in a country where meeting a family’s basic needs is estimated at US $100.

The claim that these contracts subject Cuban health professionals to slave-like work conditions will be difficult to defend indeed, considering that the entire operation has been approved by the UN’s Pan-American Health Organization and the fact that, since January of this year, Cuba has been allowing medical doctors to travel abroad with their families and to work in whatever clinic they choose.

Brazil’s Federal Medical Council declared that the arrival of Cuba’s medical brigades “exposes the health of the population to danger.” However, a mere thousand of Brazil’s medical professionals agreed to work in some of the hundreds of rural areas that have never seen a doctor. To claim that the sick people living in these regions would be better off without medical services than under the care of Cuba’s physicians seems like an absurd thing to say.

Brazil’s association of medical doctors affirms that their colleagues from the island lack the needed training. However, Cuba’s medical brigade is made up of “all-roaders” willing to settle in the most inhospitable areas, capable of working with a minimum of resources, trained to organize preventive health campaigns and very experienced in clinical diagnoses – an indispensable skill in places lacking in equipment and laboratories.

Different medical associations around Latin America began to object to these contracts as soon as Cuba got in the way of their corporate interests by sending its first health brigades to a number of countries in the region.

Tensions were exacerbated by the creation of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), an institution which provides free medical training to thousands of young people from the region, so they may return to their communities as fully qualified professionals.

Every year, thousands of young people graduate from Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine and return to their countries as fully-trained medical professionals. Photo: Raquel Perez
Every year, thousands of young people graduate from Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine and return to their countries as fully-trained medical professionals. Photo: Raquel Perez

Operacion Milagro (“Operation Miracle”), which gave thousands of people in the region back their sight without charging them a cent and thus deprived ophthalmologists, who charged US $2,000 for a 15-minute surgical procedure, of a pretty penny, caused similar tensions.

In many countries around the region, medical associations go out of their way to prevent those who graduate from Cuban medical schools from validating their degrees. Little by little, however, they have had to step aside. During his visit to Cuba, Uruguayan President Pepe Mujica told us that most Cuban medical degrees are already recognized in his country. There is still some resistance in a number of specialties, the ones in which doctors make the most money (the most expensive for patients), he added somewhat bitterly.

Brazil’s medical associations and opposition accuse President Rouseff of hiring Cuban medical brigades because of ideological reasons. The Ministry of Health replies that most of the island’s health professionals will work in Brazil’s north and north-eastern regions, precisely in those places where no Brazilian or foreign doctors who qualified to take part in the program were willing to practice, despite salaries offered of around US $13,500 a month.

In fact, beyond any possible political sympathies, the Brazilian government really had no choice – its plans of extending medical coverage to all corners of the country require 54 thousand doctors. This week, Brazil welcomed 244 professionals from Portugal, Spain, Argentina and Uruguay, but these opted to work only in cities.

Cuba is the only country capable of providing Brazil, with very short notice, a contingent of thousands of medical doctors willing to work in the neediest areas. This is a luxury it can afford because it has nearly 80 doctors – one per every 150 inhabitants, the highest ratio is the world.
(*) Read Fernando Ravsberg’s blog in Spanish.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s “All-Terrain” Doctors Arrive in Brazil

  • OK this may be my last post since I’ve stopped reading this troll-infected site for months because I was just wasting my time. But this concerns my country and I’ve showed my friend Alberto how our ‘enlightned’ medical class have ashamed the world with the xenophobic, racist and elitist ‘reception’ of their professional comrades. There’s a photo of white female doctors booeing a black Cuban doctor at the airport which is as iconic as the Little Rock black girl photo of ’57. The most ironic thing is that the President of the medical syndicate of the State of RS – who’s against those Cuban doctors coming to Brazil- has two sons who did medical school… in Cuba.

  • How many millions of Brazilians, Argentinians, Americans or Central Americans, have never seen a passport, slept in a hotel or seen a Doctor?

  • I am brazilian. The cubans did not bring their families. While the other foreing doctors (spanish, portuguese, etc) are free to make a city tour, to stay in a hotel with their families, the cubans are in the Brazilian military base, and they cannot walk away from the military base. Their passport has been confiscated. If they are “free people” why should they have their passports confiscated? Why they cannot sleep in the hotel as everyone else? Why they could not bring their family as everyone else? Comunism is good for two people: The dictators and for those who lives far far away from comunist countries, but like to talk and defend a system they did not ever lived in. bla bla bla. Liberty is the most important thing for a human being. Liberty !!!

  • What??? They are comunist and the embargo is a issue?? Something is not making sense.

  • Cuban doctors are not allowed to travel with their families abroad. They also have very little choice on where they go. Ask any Cuba doctor.
    Post one picture or report that would confirm this.
    When the Cuban regime steps in it is to support the survival of its state capitalist system. The indentured labor brings in more than any other trade for Cuba.

  • USA/Cuba Embargo=Terrorism American Style

  • Perhaps you missed this part: “Since January of this year, Cuba has been allowing medical doctors to travel abroad with their families and to work in whatever clinic they choose.”

    Again, Cuba steps in where capitalism has failed so miserably. For the first time in their lives, thousands of Brazilians will see a doctor for the first in their lives, thanks to the Revolution. Must really piss you off!

    If your political masters were so helpful, they would be sending doctors to these remote and impoverished communities around the world, but it seems they just can’t compete with the Cubans — the famous “all-terrain doctors.” (Great slogan!)

  • Just forgets to, mention that these Cuban doctors are no more than indentured labor whose wages are attached by the Cuban regime and that are prohibited to emigrate to Brazil or even to bring their families that are held in Cuba as “hostages” for their return, Dan Christensen.

    Luckily the Brazilian judicial authorities – both on labor law violations and medical qualifications – and the ILO are already looking in to the matter.
    If Cuba was truly so helpful it would let Cuban doctors emigrate freely instead of exploiting them.

  • Excellent article! Effectively exposes the private sector’s dog-in-a-manger attitude — they don’t want the work, but they’ll be damned if they let you do it! It’s all politics.

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