Venezuela, Cuba offer free health care to 6m Latin American and Caribbean citizens

Campaign News | Thursday, 25 August 2005

From the Jamaica Observer newspaper

MONTEGO Bay, August 26 - Venezuela and Cuba have committed to providing free health care to an estimated 6 million Latin American and Caribbean citizens over the next 20 years.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez told reporters here Tuesday night that he and Cuban president Fidel Castro signed off on the commitment last Saturday in Cuba.

"On Saturday in a beautiful town in Cuba called Sandino, Fidel and I, we assumed the Sandinos Commitment. We are offering within the framework of this commitment to provide health care to 6 million inhabitants in Latin America and the Caribbean in the next 20 years free of charge," Chavez told a press conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

He was speaking following a series of closed-door meetings with Prime Minister P J Patterson and officials form their respective governments.

"In September Jamaicans will also have the opportunity of receiving this health assistance," the president said.

Among the other beneficiaries annually will be an estimated 100,000 people from Brazil, 60,000 from Colombia, 12,000 from Panama, Ecuador 30,000 and 20,000 from Bolivia.

".These are some of the figures we can offer right now. But we are talking about a global figure of 600,000 operations a year, 6,000,000 in 10 years," he added.

Chavez has, in the interim, indicated that the offer of free health care and more so eye care, was also open to US citizens.

"This offer also includes the people of the United States. So I call upon all US citizens who cannot afford eye surgery to go to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington and look for help since Cuba does not have an embassy there," he said.

"There in the embassy you will be very much welcomed. Your name will be registered on a list. There will be an evaluation to access the seriousness of the eye problem."

At the same time, Chavez said that he and Castro were going to be working to educate an additional 200,000 doctors to help the poor in need of health care.

"Given that the poor of this world, including the poor people in the US do not have medical doctors to take care of their health then Fidel and I have decided, within the framework of the Bolivarian alternative, to train in the next years 200,000 medical doctors to take care of the poor and we have started already," he said.

At this moment, Cuba is training more than 12,000 doctors for the Third World

Speech given by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz at the first graduation of students from the Latin American School of Medicine. Karl Marx Theater, August 20, 2005

YOUR Excellencies and dear friends who, in representation of the countries that are home to the doctors who graduate here today, honor us with your presence;

Tenacious and dedicated young people who graduate today as a new class doctor, and their families;

Professors and workers of the Latin American School of Medicine;

Dear compatriots from Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America;

Distinguished guests:

Almost seven years ago this graduation ceremony was merely a dream. Today, it is a confirmation of the power of human beings to reach the loftiest of goals, and it is truly a prize for those of us who believe that a better world lies within our grasp.

The idea was born when the news services began to report that Hurricane Mitch had taken the lives of more than 40,000 people in Central America. We proposed to send a medical corps that would save, on a yearly basis, as many lives as those that had been taken by the hurricane. We did not hesitate to do this, even though we were still enduring the worst of the Special Period. It was made possible because, even in the midst of those terrible tribulations that followed the collapse of the socialist bloc and the USSR, which deprived us of all outside cooperation, and at a time when the world had given up our cause for lost, the Revolution never ceased, for one moment, creating human capital.

Together with the idea of helping Central America by sending over thousands of doctors, the Latin American School of Medicine sprang into being, with the aim of progressively replacing the Cuban medical personnel with local doctors, as the former completed their missions. Today this school, with its ever-expanding development, is helping to train doctors not only in Central America, but also in other parts of the world.

Looking back in retrospect, we recall that before January 1, 1959, a bloody and repressive regime closed down hundreds of our institutions of higher education, including the only Medical School at the University of Havana.

Most of the graduates came from economically secure families. Half of the doctors, lured by the United States, abandoned their threatened and assaulted homeland. Only 3,000 doctors and a reduced number of professors of Medicine stayed. Alongside them we began to build what we have today.

Because of that, only a handful of students graduated as doctors during the first years following the triumph of the Revolution. The first graduation of young doctors who had begun their studies after January 1, 1959 took place on November 14, 1965.

Our armed struggle in the eastern ranges of the Sierra Maestra had ended hardly six years earlier. With memories of that conflict fresh in my mind, I invited that group of 400 young people who were completing their medical studies to hold the graduation ceremony on the highest peak in that range and in Cuba, at an altitude of 2,000 meters; that is, on the Turquino Peak.

Today, as I stand before you in this theater, the words that I spoke to those graduating doctors on the summit of that steep mountain seem unreal.

After underlining some paragraphs from that speech, I cannot resist the temptation to repeat some of the things that I said then tonight, when a group of 1,610 doctors are graduating from the Latin American School of Medicine, including graduates from the Caribbean who have been studying in other Cuban universities.

At that time, we were also the victims of constant pirate attacks and acts of terrorism directed against our country, which were organized by the government of the United States.

This is what I said to those young people at the time: ?In this journey, many of you have had the opportunity to understand many things, things unspoken, without indoctrination, without speeches, transmitted in this soundless but highly eloquent language that speaks of social and human realities. I am sure that rather than abstract ideas, inclinations, vocation, and the natural condition of each and every one of you -which are unquestionably good - the factor that will make you live up to your duties and always act in the best way possible, will be the attitude of the campesinos of these mountains, the type of men and women that you have seen here; the goodness, friendliness, generosity, solidarity, appreciation, and gratitude of men, women, children and elderly people who have worked, grown and lived under such difficult conditions in these mountains; their truly spontaneous gestures, the flowers with which they welcomed you, the fruits of their harvests, the coffee, the water, their willingness to help you, their cooperation in all types of organization, their high regard for doctors. ?

The oath taken by these graduating students, its internationalist and revolutionary spirit...all of this must be very painful for the enemy. Perhaps they tried to minimize this in some way, so last night, according to news we received this morning at approximately 12:45 a.m., a pirate boat opened fire on the coast, in the area of Lagunas Street in Havana. Three or four minutes later, another pirate boat, apparently searching for the president’s residence, fired on the National Aquarium building with machine guns and caused a great deal of damage with machine gun fire. This happened just today.?

I will try to make a brief summary of the results of our efforts with regard to the training of personnel and the development of medical science all along these years for the distinguished guests who are honoring us with their presence as well as for everyone else present here at this graduation ceremony.

Medical doctors who graduated in our country following the triumph of the Revolution:

· During the decade 1960-1969: 4,907.

· During the second decade, 1970-1979: 9,410

· During the third decade, 1980-1989: 22,490.

· During the fourth decade, 1990-1999: 37,841.

· During the fifth decade, 2000-2004: 9,334

The total reaches 83,982. Of this large total, 3,612 have come from other countries. We must also add the 1,905 Cuban doctors graduating this year, which means that the total currently stands at 85,887.

Nowadays the methods used to train doctors are radically different. Before the Revolution, the size of school classes was huge, practical lessons were minimal, and the fundamentals of basic science were virtually non-existent. Students were able to graduate without having ever directly examined a patient or assisted in childbirth. The curriculum was mainly aimed at curing patients and the private practice of the profession, at a total remove from the health problems affecting the country. The word ‘prevention’ was hardly ever used. On average, 300 doctors and 30 dentists graduated each year.

Today the number of youth from Cuba and from other countries around the world, who are ever more united in the struggle for a more just and humane future, is rising considerably in the different areas required by a logical and efficient public health system.

During the academic year 2004-2005, the student breakdown was as follows:

· Medicine: 28,071

· Dentistry: 2,758

· Nursing: 19,530

· Health Technology: 28,400

Current students' sum total: 78,759.

Currently, 11,154 medical students from 83 different countries are studying for their degree in our country:

· 5,500 come from South American countries

· 3,244 come from Central American countries

· 489 come from Mexico and North America, including 65 young people from the United States and two from Puerto Rico.

· 1,039 come from the Caribbean

· 777 come from Sub-Saharan Africa

· 42 come from 6 countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East

· 61 come from Asia

· 2 come from Europe

The Latin American countries with the largest numbers of students in Cuba are:

1. Venezuela 889

2. Honduras 711

3. Guatemala 701

4. Paraguay 641

5. Brazil 629

6. Bolivia 567

7. Nicaragua 560

8. Ecuador 551

9. Colombia 545

10. Peru 532

From the Caribbean:

11. Haiti 676

12. The Dominican Republic 403

13. Jamaica 134

14. Guyana 117

15. Belize 79

16. Saint Lucia 69

Today we have the enormous satisfaction of seeing you, 1 610 new doctors, graduate:

· 495 from South America

· 771 from Central America

· 343 from the Caribbean

· 1 from the U.S.A.

Over the past seven years our battle for solidarity and for the training of doctors from Cuba and from other sister nations has been intense and ever-increasing.

The means and the methodology have been incredibly revolutionized, and the theoretical and practical training has considerably surpassed that which traditionally prevailed throughout history. It would be more accurate to say that the traditional form of training has been improved several times over.

While in the past there was only one university hospital, now all hospitals fall into the honorable category of university hospitals.

What is more: today, any of the 444 polyclinics offering primary medical care can also serve as medical training centers. With the support of audiovisual aids and interactive computer software, plus the assistance of dozens of specialists who are Masters or even Doctors of Science, our results can be compared with and exceed those achieved by historical methods used to train those who must ensure the health and well-being of the peoples.

Seven months ago I had the great satisfaction of meeting with 300 young people from Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras, who were in the midst of their last semester of studies and were about to return to their respective countries to work alongside brigades of Cubans specialized in General Medicine, who were working in the most far-flung corners of this region. They were accompanied by 50 young Cubans from the same level of studies. The results have been impressive. I promised them that I would attend their graduation ceremony, and here they are, as part of this very crowd, standing shoulder to shoulder like Spartan soldiers of Medicine, brandishing their victorious shields.

Glory to these young people! Glory to these new saviors of lives who are taking this noble medical profession to new heights of dedication and ethics never before seen in this world! They embody the kind of doctors for which billions of people are desperately clamoring.

However, everything that I have said so far pales in comparison to the colossal movement that is being promoted by Venezuela and Cuba to train doctors ready to march in the vanguard of the Bolivarian dawn. Thanks to this, and as part of the ?Barrio Adentro? Mission developed by President Hugo Chávez, 22,043 Venezuelan undergraduates have now embarked on their pre-med studies in the 7,898 Barrio Adentro surgeries, in close cooperation with the Venezuelan Ministries of Higher Education and Public Health.

On October 3, they will begin their first year studies in Medicine. In only 10 years time, 40,000 of them will be graduating.

Likewise, in Cuba we are developing a program to educate, in an equal period of time, 20,000 Venezuelan doctors from the Ribas Mission and from high schools, as well as 30,000 doctors from Latin American and Caribbean countries. These programs are available to young people from Latin American and the Caribbean who have not been able to study in the best high schools or been able to secure entry into medical schools due to their humble background.

Training a medical doctor in the United States will cost the family no less than $300,000. Cuba, however, is presently training more than 12,000 doctors for the Third World, thus contributing to the wellbeing of these countries to a value of more than three billion dollars. If we train or help to train 100,000 doctors from other countries in a period of 10 years, we will be contributing the equivalent of 30 billion dollars, despite the fact that Cuba is a small, Third World nation suffering from an economic blockade imposed by the United States.

What is the secret? It lies in the solid fact that the human capital is worth far more than the financial capital. Human capital involves not only knowledge, but also - and this is essential - conscience, ethics, solidarity, truly humane feelings, spirit of sacrifice, heroism, and the ability to make a little go a long way.

These vast figures of which I speak are real and have their price in the capitalist market, but they do not require extensive material resources and could be, in fact, within the grasp of any country.

Venezuela and Cuba are cooperating together in one of the most exciting programs ever implemented: to restore or preserve the sight of more than six million people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The conditions have been created in Cuba, and are being developed in Venezuela, to diagnose, operate on or cure 25,000 people from the Caribbean, 100,000 from Cuba, 100,000 from Venezuela and 120,000 from South and Central America every year.

As a matter of fact, this program is already underway in 14 of the 24 ophthalmologic institutions that will become operational in our country by the end of this year. They have been equipped with the most advanced world-class technology available. Our country is now performing 1,500 eye operations per day.

This year we have reached the figure of 50,000 Venezuelans from the Barrio Adentro Mission who have undergone eye surgery from the middle of January up until today, August 20. In less than one month 1,093 people from the Caribbean have received the same treatment, by virtue of the Anzoátegui Agreements, signed in that Venezuelan state on June 30 last.

It is important to note that every year, more than four and a half million people in Latin America and the Caribbean require this service, but do not receive it due to conditions of poverty, and more than half a million each year lose their sight, often without ever having been examined by a doctor.

Just as I did 40 years ago, please allow me to dream. The only difference being that now, after half a century of struggle, I am absolutely sure that nobody can say of our dreams what Calderon de la Barca once said: ?life is but a dream, and dreams, they are but dreams as well. ?

Let us march forward! Forward, all of you invincible standard bearers of such a noble profession, in demonstration of the fact that all the gold in the world cannot buy the conscience of the true guardians of health and life, who are ready to go to any country where their services are required, convinced that a better world is possible!

? Hasta la Victoria siempre!


Venezuela to create second Latin American Medical School

Havana, Aug 20: President Hugo Chavez announced Saturday the creation of the second Latin America Medical School in Venezuela.

Addressing the graduation ceremony of the first 1,610 medical doctors from the Havana Medical School, Chavez said the initiative will honour the Cuban and Venezuelan people, Fidel Castro and the school's first class.

"Fidel and I have thought that over 100,000 doctors will be graduated in Cuba and Venezuela over the next 10 years. However, since these are revolutionary times, such figure could double with the participation of many other countries, he added."

Chavez recalled the Havana-based Latin American School of Medicine was created in 1999, after two hurricanes devastated Central American and Caribbean nations in 1998.

Students at the school come from Latin American, Africa and the United States. Most come from low-income families and receive a free education on the condition they return home to serve their communities after graduation.

This is just the beginning, he stressed, because the Bolivarian Revolution has come to unite the Cuban Revolution and the Latin American peoples in our quest for a better world.

Chavez called the first class an expression of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an initiative pushed by Venezuela to confront the US-backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), which "is already dead", he said.

The Venezuelan head of state advocated for a real political, social and economic integration as the only way to make Latin American founding fathers' dreams come true.

Hope of becoming doctors brings US youth to Cuba

Havana, Aug 18: A group of low-income and minority youth from the US have come to Cuba to begin their medical studies in Havana thanks to a unique program offered by the island - free of charge.

This latest group of American students landed in Havana on Thursday accompanied by Reverend Lucius Walker, founder of the Pastors for Peace religious organization, which recently led a caravan of humanitarian aid to Cuba.

The student's arrival coincides with this week's graduation at Havana's Latin American School of Medicine of 1,498 doctors from Africa and the Americas, a figure that includes US physicians Walker pointed out that more than 30 million people in the United States - the richest nation in the world - have no access to public healthcare.

Cuba is offering low-income and minority youth from the US the chance to study medicine at the Latin American School with the sole condition that they return to lower-income and depressed communities to offer their professional services.

The med school's current registration totals 9,692 students from 27 countries, of which 65 are US citizens, said school officials who described that figure as an expression of Cuba's willingness to cooperate with other nations, including the US.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to impose a stiffened economic, commercial and financial blockade on Cuba which dates back for more than 40 years and which has translated into human suffering, scarcity and economic losses in the billions of dollars to the Cuban people.

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