Many people will never hear about how at the end of 2016, 38 medical professionals from Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade returned home after more than two tireless months of treating Haitians. They were sent to lend support to Cuba’s permanent medical teams in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
Following the death of 90-year-old revolutionary Fidel Castro on Nov. 25, 2016 corporate media has been fixated on depicting Fidel as the mastermind of a two-dimensional “dictatorial regime.” For those with a three-dimensional perspective, however, Fidel Castro’s death provides an opportunity to celebrate victories from the 56 years of the Cuban Revolution for which many people around the world are profoundly grateful and even owe their lives.
Reports from Haiti, Chernobyl, West Africa and many other places recount the extraordinary contributions of what some call Cuba’s “medical internationalism.” In 2014 there were 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses working in 60 developing countries, according to the research of Canadian author John Kirk published in his book “Cuban medical internationalism has saved millions of lives.” But this unparalleled solidarity has barely registered in the western media.
“Good God, Cuba has done so much for Haiti!” said Ivon Rebelisa, a 46-year-old Haitian from Semillera, Artibonite department working on a farm as a day laborer in the Dominican Republic. “Several of my neighbors were treated successfully for cholera in [the city of] Gonaive by Cuban doctors. Others who didn’t make it to the Cuban clinic in time, my cousin and his wife, both died. The Cubans taught us how to avoid contagion, about frequently washing our hands, boiling or treating water, about not eating street food that had not been reheated enough.”
In 1999 Cuba founded the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) and offered 10,000 scholarships to students “in countries where Cuban medical teams were assisting the local health systems…. The idea behind the ELAM is for graduates to eventually replace the Cuban doctors in their countries,” according to MEDICC, a non-profit which promotes Cuba’s public health program.
The ELAM currently has 19,550 students from 110 countries, making it one of the largest medical schools in the world. All students receive a full scholarship. The ELAM includes the US in its outreach, among youth aspiring to become doctors from the ranks of the “global south” within the north. More than 100 US students have attended the ELAM for free, in exchange for a non-binding promise to serve low-income communities for two years upon their return.