Monday, January 16, 2006

Cuba to the rescue

I am posting an article that was written by Kamila Hyat for the DAWN Magazine and was published by them on January 15, 2006. My remarks are present in brackets.

Visitors from across the divide

AT present, some 900 Cuban medical personnel, including over 500 doctors and 400 paramedics, continue to offer their services to quake victims in Azad Kashmir and affected areas of the North West Frontier Province. The Cubans, known around the world for their expertise in emergency situations and in trauma care, had volunteered 500 doctors within hours of the October 8 quake. The offer from Havana, according to reports from Islamabad, created something akin to panic in the corridors of decision-making, and Pakistan eventually agreed to accept only 200. The number was raised to 500 several weeks later, as the true scale of the crisis became known, and President Pervez Musharraf held a 30-minute telephonic conversation with President Fidel Castro, who was apparently able to persuade him to accept the Cuban medics.

[Henry Reeve Interanational Madical Contingent is a brigade of doctors ready to participate in relief work of humanitarian crises. Moreover, Cuban doctors are serving in more than 67 countries around the globe.]

While the work of the Cuban teams, who swiftly established field hospitals after arriving, has been widely praised by the locals, the presence of the 900-plus Cubans has also exposed the extent to which communism still strikes terror in the heart of the State. The Cubans, whose presence on the ground was reportedly opposed by Washington, have in many cases been closely monitored by literally dozens of intelligence operatives. Some report being closely scrutinized almost round the clock by personnel, who apparently feared they could incite a revolution despite their difficulties in communicating with the locals.

[These doctors, in their true professional spirit, said that they are in Pakistan to serve the earth-quake victims and have no political motives.]

In places, such as Balakot, where interaction between English-speaking locals and volunteers, and the Cubans, apparently increased after the frenetic initial days of the quake, the Cubans were in some cases forced by authorities to pack their camps and move to more remote, mountain areas, where, perhaps, it was thought there was less potential for an exchange of views.

The almost farcical situation reflects the plight of a State which is well aware that it has done little for its people, and terrified at the prospect that they may become more conscious of this through dialogue with the citizens of a State that has done a great deal more.

While Cuba’s healthcare system has suffered in recent years from resource shortages, it remains the envy of the developing world. Even developed countries such as Britain have studied the system as part of attempts to improve their own. With 5.3 doctors available per every 1,000 people — compared to 2.7 per 1,000 in the US — Cuba’s health statistics, especially in preventing diseases, rank as some of the best on the globe. Its literacy rate of 96 per cent is only one point lower than that of the US. The infant mortality rate, at seven per 1,000 births, is equal to that of the US, while on all other health indicators, Cuba finishes either ahead of the US or equal to it. This is no mean achievement for a country that has for decades faced harsh economic sanctions from the US and its allies.

[Some inaccuracies in the data: infant mortality rate in Cuba is 5 per children, even lesser than that of USA; there is one doctor for every 177 people; the literacy rate, I will have to check, is also higher than 96 percent.]

Crucially, 50 per cent of the Cuban medics in Pakistan are women, and as such have been able to offer treatment to female patients in a society where traditionally male doctors do not attend to women. Local people have described the Cubans as being sympathetic, good humoured, extremely efficient and willing to work in the most arduous conditions. In some places, such as the village of Danna, 40km from Muzaffarabad, the 50 or so Cubans running a field hospital gained quite a fan following amongst the people they treated.

[There are very interesting news from the earth-quake hit areas. Many people are naming their babies on the name of the Cuban doctor who helped in delivery of the baby. More interestingly, one baby was named 'Cuba']

The young NGO volunteers who have interacted with Cubans have also found the experience eye-opening, in more ways than one. Some of the young Cuban doctors have quite openly been dismayed at the conditions of life for ordinary Pakistani people — the lack of proper housing, sanitation, healthcare or schooling — even in ordinary times. In turn, the accounts given by the Cubans regarding services available in their country has forced Pakistanis to think longer and deeper as to why similar facilities are not available to them, given the fact that the tiny Caribbean island of Cuba is by no means a rich country.

It is as such no surprise that the State of Pakistan is anxious to prevent this information being disseminated, and has as such made every possible effort to restrict contact between the Cuban visitors and those they have come to assist in a time of crisis.

[UNICEF's director of operations in Pakistan, Indiana Gonzalez Mairena, told the Cuban newspaper Vanguardia, "I recognize this as valuable humanitarian aid which we would not expect from other countries possessing much more resources than Cuba. It's just a matter of will"]


Renegade Eye said...

Cuban medical teams are doing nothing but good all over the world.

Castro offered to help in USA, after Katrina. The help was refused.

Cuba helped militarily in Angola in 1975, to defeat South African intrigues there.

Umer A. Chaudhry said...


Do you have more information about the incident. I have not heard much about that.

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.

Renegade Eye said...


Cuba did support the MPLA militarily, to evenize the fight, against outside imperialist forces.