HAVANA TIMES — On Thursday, 5,694 young people from 59 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa in Cuba received their diplomas certifying them as doctors. The last time I was at that international school, I ran into everyone from a Uruguayan compatriot of mine drinking mate to a young Mongolia woman washing her clothes.
This year the class was led in numbers by Bolivia, with 2,400 graduates; followed by Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia. Soon these doctors will return to their communities with the hope of joining the fight against diseases and ailments – but actually only some will succeed.
In many countries, medical schools have erected towering barriers against recognizing degrees from the Latin American School of Medical Sciences (ELAM). I know a Salvadoran woman who has spent years waiting for validation, despite her having studied a specialty.
Because of these limitations, some graduates leave their countries and immigrate to developed countries where they are recognized as general practitioners and allowed to specialize. Later they work with the same rights as a local physician.
This situation makes the impact of the project more modest than expected. Also, none of the benefiting countries provide financial support for the training, which means that the economic burden of thousands of foreign students is increasingly heavy on Cuba.
In the meantime, sources from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health confirmed to me that enrollment at ELAM will be reduced by half, and no one knows for sure how many more graduations will be held.
It’s a shame, because taking a young man or young woman from their community, turning them into doctors and returning them to treat their own people is a project that is very human. I verified that when I saw the ELAM graduates attending to the sick among the Kuna people in Panama.
The problem is that Cuba funds the program from the budget of the Public Health Ministry, and things there aren’t working well enough for the country to splurge on non-basic expenses. Hospitals suffer from chronic shortages resulting from the lack of money, wasted resources and corruption.
At this very moment, the director of a major hospital in the capital and scores of subordinates are in jail for having set up a “private business operation,” but using state resources. Through this, they charged for services that ranged from abortions to cosmetic surgery.
The matter shouldn’t surprise anyone, because the whole political class has a relative or friend who has had liposuction or breast implantation procedures performed. Even the Customs Office — so strict with other items — allows people to bring breast prostheses into the country without charging fees.
Seeing how silicone enhances a woman’s figure, one might think that it’s all worth the trouble, though this certainly wouldn’t cross the mind of the suffering patient who’s waiting for an operating room while the girls of show business and the mistresses of important people are getting their waistlines trimmed so they can fit back into their bikinis.
It appears that in the area of public health, a simple “adjustment of the model” won’t suffice. What it really needs is major reform to end the construction of useless construction facilities, the purchase of unusable equipment, the theft of food, the black market on medicines and corruption.
It would help to increase the salaries of doctors, respect the economic promises made to those who served on overseas missions, facilitate the entry of their belongings back into the country when they return, and give them the opportunity to buy new cars and create housing cooperatives.
One doesn’t have to look too far for the resources. It would be enough to spend a small part of what those same aid workers generate through their work in other countries. There are plenty of reasons why Cuban health care personnel should be the “spoiled” of society.
If there was a need to save even more, it would be sufficient to implement the agreements of the Communist Party Congress that call for an analysis of the expenses involved in every Cuban solidarity campaign (such as foreign health care assistance) and proposes that compensation for costs be collected, wherever possible.
With 70,000 doctors, Cuba has the human capital to support other peoples in the wake of disasters, but its economic resources are so scarce that it seems logical to seek financing. The exchange with Venezuela and coordination with Norway in Haiti are examples of where this is possible.
This premise could also serve to prolong the life of the Latin American School of Medicine. It doesn’t seem excessive to ask governments to cover the living expenses of their students and, especially, to ensure the recognition of their degrees.
(*) An authorzed Havana Times translation of the original posted by BBC Mundo.