Only Half the Story / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 September 2015 — A few days ago the Cuban Ministry of Public Health published an extensive article under the headline “Health Services to Our People Are Guaranteed and Improving.” But it only told about half the story, ignoring everything else.

The article mentions the participation of the Cuban Medical Brigade in the fight against ebola, the different types of assistance offered to other countries suffering from natural disasters, the number of doctors per capita, the fact that 50,000 health care workers — half of whom are doctors — are involved in medical missions overseas, that more than 10,700 foreign students train in our schools, and other such statistics. The country’s commitment to internationalism was also stressed.

Furthermore — and this seems to be the main reason for the article — it refers to smear campaigns to discredit the work of the Cuban doctors, like the attitude of some medical associations and colleges that reject them, and to the continued “brain drain” resulting from doctors moving into private medical practice.

It also mentions plans to improve working conditions and the quality of life for doctors in Cuba and even the possibility that those who left the country for various reasons can rejoin the National Health System with guaranteed job placement under conditions similar to those they previously had.

Regarding how health services are actually going to be “guaranteed and improved,” very little was said, even though one would have expected it to be the main thrust of the article. Nor was it mentioned that the salaries of most of those 50,000 health care workers who lend their services in sixty-eight countries are paid directly to the Cuban government, which retains the greater percentage of these funds.

Workers are paid only a reduced amount to cover expenses while on their missions and another reduced amount upon completion of a mission. These stipends can only be used under strict conditions mandated by authorities.

As is widely known, the income generated from renting out the services of Cuban professionals to other countries and the remittances from family members living overseas currently constitute the country’s two main sources of hard currency.

The article also does not address the conditions of our health care facilities, which — with the exception of those reserved for foreigners, high-level officials and their family members — leave much to be desired in terms of resources, equipment, medications and other supplies necessary to provide proper care.

Additionally, many members of the Medical Corps treating patients are either recent graduates or Cuban and foreign medical students doing their internships by substituting for experienced professionals working overseas. The article also does not address the conditions under which health care professionals must work, the low salaries they receive or the impossibility of realizing their full potential as citizens, all of which are the main causes for their mass exodus.

It should be noted that, unlike in Cuba, other countries’ medical associations and colleges operate independently of their governments and, therefore, are able to defend the interests of their members and protect them from professional intrusions.

It seems that because the Cuban government provides for their education, which is its duty and one which many other countries do much better, it believes Cuba’s trained professionals are its property, denying them the right each person has to determine how and where he or she wants to live his or her life.

The incentive it is offering — to go back to where they started from — just seems like a bad joke.