Cuba Offers Canada Doctors to Care for Indigenous Populations

Jerry Daniels in Havana with doctors preparing to go abroad. (@MCDRSC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 March 2020 — A Cuban doctor arrived last Monday in the Canadian province of Manitoba as an advance guard for a project for the hiring of Cuban health personnel to serve the native populations of that country.

To compensate for the forced withdrawal of its medical missions in several Latin American countries, especially in Brazil, the Cuban government is trying to find new markets for the export of services that represent the country’s primary source of income, ahead of remittances and tourism. And the indigenous Canadians offer an opportunity in a rich country that has difficulties in serving these populations.

The Cuban government brought Jerry Daniels, great chief of the southern Manitoba region, and David Ledoux, chief of the Gambler people, as well as Nelson Genaille, of the Sapotewayak Cree nation, to a press conference at the National Hotel in Havana last Friday to sell the offer from the Cuban government. On Monday there was a Cuban doctor deployed in the field who will be the pioneer of a project to which they hope to add many others if the experience is good.

In their presentation in Havana, the indigenous leaders explained that the Canadian Government has failed to bring to their villages the high standards of healthcare found elsewhere in that country and Cuba will be able to do so.

“We want our communities to have clinics, hospitals and other care centers, and I urge the other leaders of the ‘first nations’ to open up to this possibility of collaboration with Cuba, which we need so much,” said Daniels, who regrets that natives abandon their communities to move to big cities due to lack of support.

In an interview with the Russian agency Sputnik , Michelle Chantal Dubois, an advisor of Mohawk origin and promoter of the initiative, said that the problems of offering good quality healthcare in the indigenous villages are linked to the lack of capacity of the Canadian Government to train health services that serve these areas, so the project with Cuba, if it materializes, will cover that aspect as well.

“Even if Canada were willing to do so, it would be impossible to train a sufficient number of doctors. There are no doctors and nurses for all of Canada, […] 38% of them are foreigners and of those, a large number have been trained in Cuba,” said Dubois.

Among the problems that afflict these communities, according to Dubois, are alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide associated with poverty. “The Cuban vision of health is mainly focused on prevention. The goal is to prevent problems. This is really what we need. Cuban doctors are also sensitive to the reality of suicide, which is a serious problem in indigenous communities,” she pointed out in the interview.

The indigenous chief of Manitoba believes that individuals from the national health services experience a large cultural shock and remain very few days because they are part of an elite that is not prepared to face the living conditions of the indigenous people, and they expect the opposite of what those who arrive from the Isand will expect. “Cuban doctors take the time to adapt and integrate into the communities they go to. On the contrary, Canadian doctors seem to have little interest in the aboriginal reality,” Daniels said.

From the first contacts, at the end of last year, this current campaign developed by Cuba to attract new contracts was born. On December 5, 2019, Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Health, Marcia Cobas, delivered a speech in Ottawa to representatives of the native peoples, a large market that consists of 634 communities and about 1.6 million people.

Last year, Cuba increased its presence in new parts of the continent by negotiating with countries that were not previously in its sights. The French Parliament approved a project in July to reform the health system to respond to the demands of its overseas territories, which for months had been requesting to hire Cuban doctors.

The provision authorized the territories of the French Antilles to hire doctors and health workers from outside the European Union. The promoters of the idea lamented that the great distance that separates them from Europe, together with the laws, was leaving them without medical personnel.

At the beginning of 2019, French Guyana hired one hundred Cuban doctors, under an ordinance in force since 2005.

Far from there, but in the same country, a French town in the department of Ardèche (Privas) asked to be able to bring Cuban personnel to reopen the maternity hospital that they had to close in September due to lack of staff.

Cuba’s efforts are also very focused on the Middle East, where in recent years it has maintained numerous international missions in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

This latter country was the focus of an extensive article in the British newspaper The Guardian, which visted a hospital in Doha and found that each Cuban doctor received about 1,000 dollars a month, approximately 10% of what other foreign doctors earn in the country’s hsopitals. The rest of the money paid for the Cuban doctors, betwen $4,000 and $9,000 remain in the hands of the Cuban State.

This same newspaper published a report this month dedicated to analyzing the efforts of Donald Trump Administration to put an end to the international missions, which it describes as slavery, based on the the labor and salary conditions of the professionals that serve on them. For this article, The Guardian interviewed several doctors who said they were happy to do this work although they dared to confess their discomfort with the small percentage they receive relative to what the State earns.

The impact that the breaking of the huge contracts Cuba had had with countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia especially, although also in Uruguay, is unknown.

The Plaza of the Revolution also had the Mexican option, which it tried at the end of 2018 after Andrés Manuel López Obrador became president, but it was rejected by the president himself. Another instance was Venezuela, with whom Cuba maintains collaboration in all areas, although it has withdrawn part of its medical staff in that country.


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