Medical brigades have treated 85 million

Campaign News | Friday, 4 April 2008

More than 85 million people have been seen by Cuban medical personnel,

with an estimated 615,000 lives having been saved to date. This

solidarity reaches all continents.

After 45 years of existence, the Cuban Medical Collaboration Program

continues as a model and a cornerstone of the nation’s international

policy, as well as one the highest forms of altruism ever showed to

sister nations.

Currently, more than 36,500 collaborators of the health system,

including professionals and technicians, offer their services in 73

countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa; the number of countries

will rise to 81 in 2008.

Throughout all these years, they have saved an estimated 614,383 lives,

seen 85,099,737 patients, and they have performed 221,712 surgeries.

Such amazing figures show the magnitude of the message of peace, love

and solidarity taken by the Cuban professionals to every corner of the

globe, despite the race, faith or ideology of the patients, fully

respecting the law and customs of the territories where they work.

In the first month of 1959, Fidel Castro outlined the precepts that

would lead us to institute this kind of collaboration as one of the

basic principles governing Cuba’s foreign policies.

The definite step, however, was not taking until 1963, when the first

International Medical Brigade departed for Algeria. The brigade was made

up by 58 professionals who worked in that country for 14 months.

At the time, Algeria had just gained its independence from the French

metropolis; the regime bequeathed the country an impoverished public

health situation.

Although back then Cuba did not have an organized and strong healthcare

system -the country had just emerged from a similar situation- the

country answered to the request for help made by the Algerian government.


That was the beginning of a journey that continues into the present,

saving lives in the most remote and obscure places in the world.

In 1998, after Hurricane Mitch hit many Central American countries -

particularly Honduras y Guatemala- leaving a horrendous trail of death

and missing people, an Integral Healthcare Program (PIS) was organized.

Its benefits extended to almost all the countries in Central America and

the Caribbean.

Cuban doctors also work in immunization campaigns and in prevention

programs against AIDS in areas where they offer their services.

Likewise, in September 2005 the Henry Reeve Internationalist Brigade was

created. The brigade, named after an American volunteer who fought for

independence of Cuba in the 19th century, is formed by doctors specially

trained to work assisting victims of natural disasters and severe


This brigade has accomplished important missions, such as those in

Guatemala after the passing of Hurricane Stan; in Pakistan, after the

powerful earthquake that affected the north of that nation in 2005; in

Bolivia during the disastrous floods they suffered; and more recently in

Peru, after the earthquake that took place in 2007.


This brigade originated from an idea of Commander-in-chief Fidel Castro,

who conceived of it to give special attention to the victims of the

Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the US city of New Orleans. The US

government rejected the free help offered by Cuba, although they didn’t

have the means to address the healthcare service requirements of the


However, Cuba’s only concern is not temporarily easing the pain of those

in need, the Caribbean country also takes care of developing the

necessary human resources, which greatly benefit these sister nations.

That is the reason why in 1961 Cuban included in its cooperation policy

for education, the granting of scholarships to many students from

underdeveloped nations. This concept materialized in the creation of the

Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), one of the highest expressions

of the principles of solidarity that form the ethical grounds of the

Cuban medical collaboration program and of a considerable part of the

Integral Healthcare Program.

More than 3,000 students have graduated from that institution, and

another 10,000 from 28 nations are currently studying there.

Worth mentioning also is Operation Milagro, a Cuban-Venezuelan project

aimed at healing curable ophthalmic diseases.

This one-of-a-kind program started in the Bolivarian Republic of

Venezuela in 2004 with the objective of restoring the eyesight of six

million Latin Americans. By early 2008, the program had already

benefited one million people, and the number of centers for

ophthalmologic surgery donated by Cuba to these country rose to 37.

Cuba’s achievements in the health sector are renowned around the world.

For example, its high levels of life expectancy (at 77 years of age),

and its low rates of infant mortality (5.3 for every thousand live

births) are accomplishments that compare favourably with those of

developed countries like the United States.

In addition, there is a wide variety of health programs designed to

protect citizens, especially children. The latter, for instance, enjoy

an immunization program whose quality equals those of the most developed

countries of the world and has been praised by the World Health


On May 28 began the most recent vaccination campaign against

poliomyelitis, one of the diseases eliminated in Cuba after 1959. This

time nearly 500,000 children will be immunized.

There is also one doctor for every 158 inhabitants, a figure typical of

highly industrialized nations.

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