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Cuban medics offer a lifeline to Haitian quake victims.

Ever since the mainstream U.S. media began covering the recent Haitian earthquake tragedy, there have been ceaseless TV reports of U.S. rescue teams digging out victims from the rubble of collapsed buildings throughout Port-au-Prince--along with reports of U.S. and foreign medical teams carrying out life-saving surgeries.

Cuba's assistance to Haiti, however, seems to have been overlooked by CNN and Fox News. In fact, Cuban doctors have been active in Haiti for years (see CubaNews, December 2003, page 14), even receiving indirect help from progressive American donors.

Pittsburgh-based aid group Global Links has been been collecting funds, as well as crutches, wheelchairs and folding walkers for invalid Haitians being treated by Haitian doctors working alongside the Cubans. Days after the earthquake, the charity shipped nearly $50,000 of antibiotics and other materials (such as surgical gloves, lab and IV supplies, X-ray film and chemicals) donated by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Global Links' partner, Oakland, Calif.-based charity MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba) has long encouraged cooperation between Cuban and U.S. medical entities. It's also provided indirect assistance to Cuban medics operating in Haiti via its Haitian counterparts--who, unlike the Cubans, are not subject to a U.S. trade embargo.

Diane Appelbaum, U.S. director of MEDICC, said Cuba is responsible for much of the Haitian medical staffing presence currently existing in that country--including over 400 Haitian graduates of Cuba's Latin American Medical School (ELAM).

"This includes graduates who were already there, plus several dozen more who were sent to Haiti on Jan. 16 as part of Cuba's reinforcement to the medical personnel there," she said. "Sixty Haitian medical students from ELAM arrived Jan. 20. They are among 189 enrolled in 4th and 5th-year courses, out of a total of 567 Haitian medical students in Cuba."

Just after the earthquake, said Appelbaum, MEDICC appealed to various foundations, companies and individual donors, managing to raise over $250,000 for relief efforts.

She said Cuba's efforts in Haiti date back to May 1999, when Haiti's first students arrived in ELAM; most returned between 2005 and 2009 to serve their country's poor rural areas.

Before Cuba's involvement in Haiti, she said, that country had only 1,000 doctors for more than 9 million inhabitants.

By Jan. 22--only 10 days after the earthquake--the Cuban-Haitian contingent had already treated over 20,000 patients and carried out 1,054 surgeries, with Cuban authorities dispatching physical therapists and nurses specializing in rehabilitation to Haiti.

Geographically, the Cuban-Haitian medical group has been working at Renaissance, OFATMA and La Paz University Hospitals in Port-au-Prince, along with treating patients in public parks and other outdoor locales.

Some Cuban doctors work as close as 100 yards from the destroyed presidential palace. They've also set up a field hospital at Leogane (on the outskirts of the Haitian capital) and are establishing a similar facility in Carrefour.

These medical teams receive Venezuelan aid to run comprehensive diagnostic centers at Grand Goave, Petit-Goave and Thomazeau--areas outside metro Port-au-Prince.

The Cuban-Haitian medical group also has a presence at Jacmel, Mirebalais, Anse-aVeau, Raboteau, Aquin, Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien, Port de Paix, Nippes and Grande Anse.

Unlike much of the U.S. media, Haitian-Americans have not overlooked Cuba's contribution to their country.

"Cuba already had close to 400 doctors there," said Haitian-American activist Dahoud Andre, interviewed by progressive New York FM radio station WBAI. "When the crisis happened, Cuba provided the most medical assistance immediately before anyone else. The Cubans have treated 18,000 Haitian earthquake victims. This is vital assistance that cannot be measured."

With the U.S. military controlling Port-au-Prince airport and harbor, the Cubans have been funneling their medical supplies into Haiti through the Dominican border.

In addition, an undisclosed number of U.S. graduates of Cuba's medical program are traveling to Haiti via the Dominican Republic to help Cuban doctors. Many of those medical grads come from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and outside of New York as well.

Meanwhile, Sandra Levinson, executive director of New York's Center for Cuban Studies, wonders how much longer Cuban doctors will be able to stay in Haiti, especially if U.S. troops remain on Haitian soil indefinitely.

"The United States has tried to pressure allies into sending Cuban doctors home [out of their countries], but this has been largely unsuccessful," she told CubaNews by email.

"After Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004, for example, Cuban doctors were allowed to remain in the country despite U.S. criticism, as they were one of the only sources of accessible medical care in the country. As it turns out, if these doctors would have been ejected from the country, some of the most critical first responders to the earthquake would not have been in place."

Details: Diane Appelbaum, MEDICC, 1814 Franklin St., Suite #500, Oakland, CA 94612. Tel: (510) 350-3055. Email: URL:
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Author:Echevarria, Vito
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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