By Conner Gorry in Haiti
HAVANA TIMES, March 6 — The commitment to Haitian health care made by graduates of Havana’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM) after the January 12th earthquake entered a second phase today as more than 250 doctors fanned out to take up their new posts at health centers and hospitals around the country. These Cuban-trained doctors–joining the Cuban medical teams in Haiti–hail form over 25 countries in Africa, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia.
The new assignments for these ELAM grads marks the formal transition from the emergency medical phase of the Cuban-led effort–addressing immediate problems such as wounds, burns and acute respiratory infections–to the next, more sustainable phase of providing long-term health care. The young doctors are being folded into Cuban health teams that have been working in the Haitian public health system without interruption since 1999.
ELAM and Cuban doctors from Uruguay, Cuba, Colombia, and Brazil – part of the Henry Reeve Emergency contingent.
Each ELAM doctor has chosen to stay in Haiti from 3 months to a year. “I’ve committed to 6 months, but I really want to stay a year,” says Dr. Sindy Gómez from El Salvador (ELAM 2008), “After that,” she told me, “I’ll discuss the possibility with my husband of staying longer. The Haitian people need us.” ELAM doctors from Colombia, Panama and Brazil echoed Dr. Gómez’s sentiments–all the more noteworthy, since many of these young physicians come from low-income families that depend on them.
“All of them were motivated and willing to stay,” said Eladio Balcarcel, Cuban coordinator of the ELAM graduates in Haiti. “Some are now going to more remote communities, but the conditions will be better. Living in tent camps for a couple of months is tolerable, but it’s not sustainable over the long term,” he explained in the midst of the sendoff. In their new posts, the doctors will be living in houses with electricity and water, and working in health centers and hospitals providing primary care services.
Cuban medical educators are evaluating the possibility that these graduates might carry out part of their residencies in family medicine during their service in Haiti, under the tutelage of Cuban professors.
This approach isn’t new: many Guatemalan ELAM graduates working back home are completing family medicine and other specialties under Cuban professors posted in their country. But Haiti’s complex post-disaster context presents new challenges to considering such an option.
Published with permission of Medical Cooperation wtih Cuba (MEDICC)