Free Medical Education! - In Cuba?

Free medical school! Sounds impossible to US citizens. When people first hear it, they can't believe that Cuba has offered and is proving totally free medical education of various specialties to poor and minority students from countries all over the world. How could Cuba, a "3rd World" country itself really be doing this. If they do a simple web search, it turns out that not only has Cuba provided such training to thousands of specialist from the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa, but more recently, they even offered this training to US students! (In July 2007, eight US studants graduated and 88 are enrolled. The first to graduate, Cedric Edwards, is now working at Montefiore Hospital in New York City's Bronx borough.)

Of course the student has to apply and then qualify, but it's not money that matters, its motivation and readiness to serve under-served communities. And you only have to read the US press these days to see how badly our costly medical system is failing to serve Americans of all incomes, but it is the minorities, unemployed and working poor who are served the worst.

After years of training students for free from other Latin American countries, Cuba first offered this free training to the US in 2001 (see below) and expanded it from 8 initial qualifiers, to 60 in 2003 and more coming. Then in 2005 Katrina exposed the many ways US government institutions don't serve their own people, again treating the poor and minorities the worst. You may not know that Cuba immediately responded to Katrina by quietly offering hundreds of highly trained, crisis experienced and fully equipped physicians to the US. They didn't publicize it at first so the US government wouldn't have the excuse to say Cuba was just doing this for propaganda, but the US ignored Cuba's offer anyway. The US spokesmen even publicly listed all the other countries that had offered aid, but purposefully left Cuba off the list! So faced with this callous insult to a humanitarian offer, Cuba publicly announced they were upping the offer to at least 1,400 doctors, ready with medicines to fly to the US in several hours. This time the US authorities lied and said they didn't need the Cuban help. The truth is that many hospitals and services in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast are still not functioning and during the last year, thousands of people have gone with no or inadequate medical help.

Can we even imagine what these crises experienced 1,400 Cuban doctors might have contributed? The have helped in other hurricane devastated areas and provided surgery and care in devastated areas such as the earthquake areas of Pakistan. Then this is not surprising, because these 1,400 are just part of the 10's of thousands of doctors that Cuba has sent free to countries where they are desperately needed, all over the world.

The approach to medicine in Cuba and that they offer to those in need in other countries is different than most medicine practiced in our country. This different approach and philosophy and years of anti "socialized medicine" propaganda is part of why most US citizens know nothing about the millions served by Cuban doctors in the Americas. Free doctors, free eye operations, doctors in the barrios because local physicians won't go there and now even offers to train US doctors who will return to offer medical care in this same spirit!

Clearly, in 2006 in the US, we don't need more medical insurance or new prescription plans. We need access as a right to healthy, healthcare, for all who need it and delivered in a manner that encourages the best outcome. Cuba and the countries working with Cuba are trying to bring this about for those most in need.

How this is seen on the world stage is described in Znet's article on why Cuba got so much support for the new UN Human Rights Council and the US didn't even run:

"The election for Cuba came at a moment in which nearly 30,000 Cuban doctors were saving lives and alleviating the pain in 70 countries,* while the United States reached that stage with 150,000 invading soldiers, sent to kill and die in an unjust and illegal war.

The election for Cuba came with more than 300,000 patients from 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who were recovering their eyesight thanks to the cost-free surgeries performed by Cuban eye specialists. It came for the United States with over 100,000 civilians murdered and 2,500 American youths dead in a war concocted to steal a country’s oil and give away sumptuous contracts to a group of cronies of the President of the world’s sole superpower." Exit U.S., Enter Cuba, Znet, June 23, 2006

And on... 2008 Operation Miracle Milestone Celebrated in Cuba!

By Gabriel Davalos

More than one million people from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa have recovered their vision thanks to the Operation Miracle free eye-surgery program started by Cuba...On hand [for the December 2007 Havana tribute] were patients, professionals, technicians and other workers tied to the humanitarian effort. They sent a joint special recognition to Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, for having conceived the idea of Operation Miracle and his continuous involvement in its development.

“The goal wasn’t to reach a million; the miracle continues and will continue,” said Public Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera. “This program is truly effective in the sense that men and women with a revolutionary conscience, and highly knowledgeable in the task proposed, have given their bodies and souls to it,” he added.

Balaguer spoke about the importance of Fidel’s idea of going house to house to find people with health problems and try to remedy them. It has become a revolutionary experience in our health system, he said.

Dr. Elia Rosa Lemus Lago, a staff member of the Council of State, described the advanced ophthalmology technology that Cuba has acquired and put at the service of patients. Equipment she said offers high quality attention that has also benefited 150,000 Cubans.

Operation Miracle has taken on major proportions with 165 Cuban institutions taking part in one way or another. In all there is a network of 49 ophthalmologic centers with 82 operating rooms in 14 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Lemus noted.

During the ceremony, diplomas signed by Fidel Castro were handed to the institutions and organizations that have made Operation Miracle a success. Recognition was also given to the Operation Miracle missions abroad in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, San Vicente and the Grenadines, Guyana, Paraguay, Granada, Nicaragua, and Uruguay.

Operation Miracle has revolutionized ophthalmology [in the Americas and]...an ophthalmology network has developed in Cuba that includes an ophthalmology faculty opened with new teaching methods that transform the concepts of centuries of medical education.

Clearly medicine in Cuba today has a different philosophy and approach than the US's reliance on money, privatization, corporate medicine and sometimes with a little bit of charity and the occasional visit by generous rich personalities. Clearly we in the USA need a better approach.

Walter Teague, LICSW
Written 8/18/2006, and updated: 06/19/2012

* As of June 25/2007, Dr. Marche co director of the National Institute of Medical Genetics in Cuba, pointed out that over 100,000 Cuban health workers are now serving in 103 countries!

On June 29, 2007, Cuban doctors spoke out about US government attempts to destroy Cuba's effective international medical "cooperation with 155 countries, and more than 42 thousand Cuban professionals and technicians offer their services in 108 countries. [ See updated information on Cuban web site CubaCoop.com ]

Environmental News, NAMIBIAN, June 29, 2007. www.namibian.com.na

Junket to Cuba provides just what doctor ordered, Houston Chronicle, May 1, 2009. www.chron.com Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas meets 100 US medical students studying on full scholarship in Cuba.

Note: The totals and figures while all impressive, differ because they are referring to different categories of health care workers in a variety of programs. WT


If you are interested in this, check out the links below and do your own research.

Escuela Latinoamericana de Ciencias Médicas

These programs are continuing and expanding. A web search will bring up many new sources of information: A new site in Cuba gives overviews on this and other programs!


Some Background:

Castro offers aid to Central America

HAVANA, Nov. 22 [1998] (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro has doubled the number of medical scholarships offered to the Central American nations hit by Hurricane Mitch.

Last week Castro said Cuba would give 500 medical school scholarships each year for the next 10 years, but in a speech Saturday night he said the number would be 1,000 for 1999.

Castro's remarks were reported in Sunday's Juventud Rebelde.

``The impact of the offer has been such that the telephones in our embassies have been ringing constantly and for that reason were have thought of receiving, during the initial year, 1,000 instead of 500 scholarship students,'' Castro said.

While announcing the scholarships for Central American high school graduates, Cuba also reiterated it was ready to send 2,000 doctors for prolonged periods to Central American nations that request its help.

Cuba has five medical teams working in Honduras and Guatemala, the nations hardest hit by the recent hurricane.

Six Cuban medical brigades are also working in Nicaragua at the invitation of its president, Arnoldo Aleman, a critic of Castro who originally turned down the Cuban offer to send doctors.

Cuba's medical schools have graduated between 2,500 and 3,500 doctors a year over the past decade and a half.

Date: Thus, 4 Jan 2001 16:02:34 -0500

From: Zylman, Jack

While in Cuba in February, I toured the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, which was established to train doctors for Latin America and Africa - free. It was very impressive, as were the students. (By the way, the medical system in Cuba is among the best in the third world).

I asked if Americans could attend, and if so, what would be the cost?

Well, the program has been established, and they are willing to take 250 black American young people, free, for a 6 year medical school course! The only costs to the students are the transportation down there and back, of course. (We should be able to get some scholarships for that, too.) It is a residential school, so room and board is free.

This is for high school graduates. The school courses will begin in September 2001, with a 6 month preparation period leading up to it, in which they will study Spanish and catch up on whatever they need to be able to go to school successfully.

I have the papers describing the program and the application, so people should contact me for copies.

Now, the catch: the applications need to be in by January 15, just 11 days from now. Impossible, yes. However, I think we can push it back a bit, but we still need to jump on this if it is going to work.

Look for kids who have graduated from high school, be under 25 years of age, and have no criminal record or outstanding legal proceedings. They will need a heath certificate and a birth certificate. They may be out of school, working, in college, or unemployed - they just need to want to go to medical school and be brave enough to go to another nation and be willing to work hard for their future.

I hope we can get some students from the congressional district for this. Please check around and let me know.

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Page Updated: 06/19/2012