It’s all about altruism man,
not politics. It would be unthinkable in the US to offer much of anything for
nothing, let alone a 6-year medical education, but the Cubans have been doing
this for many countries in the past, and now Americans may apply. Hundreds of
low-income minority students will now be fortunate thanks to Cuba. In the U.S.
the same 6-year course of study would run $93,000. No wonder doctors are so
grumpy these days with a debt this big to begin a career.
“We have people in the Bronx
trying to identify students for the program,” said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.
“This is an exciting idea and I just hope that politics don’t get in the way.”
The State Department said it
sees no legal problems with the plan.
The scholarship program arose
as a result of a meeting last year between members of the Black Caucus, a group
of black members of Congress, and Fidel Castro. The caucus will help administer
the program. Of the 500 positions, 250 will be reserved for low-income black
students, and 250 for low-income students from other minority groups.
“It would be hard for your
government to oppose such a program,” Castro said at the time. “Morally, how
could they refuse?”
Anti-Castro groups in the USA
have denounced the program, as you would have expected calling it a “propaganda
ploy”. But Luis Fernandez, an official with the Cuban Interests Section, which
represents Cuba in Washington, DC, said that the Cuban government’s offer is
entirely altruistic. “It is only to help people in the poor communities of the
United States”. He said. “There is nothing political about it. We are asking for
nothing in return.”
Students accepted to the
program will attend school at the Latin American School of Medical Sciences in
Havana. Cuban officials say the school has a long tradition of training foreign
students from the developing world and currently has more than 3400 enrolled
from 23 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
In a speech at New York’s
Riverside Church (Sept.2000) President Fidel Castro stated, “Cuba has reduced
its infant mortality from 60 per 1,000 live births in the first year of life to
less than 7 deaths per 1,000.” How does this compare with U.S. infant mortality?
I am sure that readers of this column know the answer. The rate of infant
mortality in Washington D.C. is twice as high as in socialist Cuba. According to
that famous list each month in Harpers, 79 countries, including Cuba, have a
lower infant mortality rate than Harlem, New York.
I read somewhere on a list
serve that when Castro was in the U.S. he met with members of the Congressional
Black Caucus, and spoke with a Rep. from Mississippi, who said that in his
district there were areas with no doctors at all. That doesn’t surprise me, but
it might come as a shock to the readership. The U.S. in many respects has one of
the worst health care systems in the world. In many HMO’s nurse practitioners
are replacing doctors, and already nurse anesthicists are replacing MD’s who
once were present to dispense anesthesia alongside the surgeons.
Castro also feels that the
U.S. has an inferior system. He said in New York “I see you are the Third World
of the United States…We are prepared to send you a few doctors free of charge,
the same as we do for other countries of the Third World.”
Blacks and Hispanics are
underrepresented in the nation’s 125 medical schools, according to studies
published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The
number of Black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants fell by nearly 7% in
1999; of that year’s freshman class, just 7.9% was black and 6.9% Hispanic. The
U.S. population is 12% black and 12% Hispanic.
But will Cuban credentials be
worth much in the United States? Many Cuban physicians who fled to the U.S. have
had difficulty obtaining licenses to practice. This may be political on the part
of the USA. In the worst case imaginable, the doctor could sit for the exam in
the state where he would eventually practice. That seems to work for all the
foreign doctors we have now from India, Pakistan, and all countries of the
world. Those credentials seem very high indeed for the rest of the world. Since
1990 in response to an earthquake 39,780 volunteers have worked in 80 different
nations Currently there are 429 Cuban doctors in Haiti to be increased to 800 by
the end of this year.
Speaking of altruism Dr.
Anthony F. Kirkpatrick emailed me the latest in his continuing effort, almost
unimaginable in devotion and persistence in spite of very difficult odds, to
deliver medical supplies to Cuba. Last Thanksgiving Day he said, “I flew my
small plane to Cuba loaded with medical donations from the United States. To get
permission, I had to overcome considerable nervousness from Cuban authorities.
They feared my flight would open a way for more U.S.-sponsored provocation by
private pilots, such as the events that led to the shoot down of two planes by
Cuba in 1996.” The whole Miami Herald Editorial by Dr. Kirkpatrick can be found
It was published February
Dorothy Guellec Health