Thursday, June 14, 2007
Haiti and Cuba--So Close, Yet So Far
Haiti and Cuba are separated by 90 miles of water. Their geographic proximity is close, but the health of their people could hardly be further apart.
Under President Aristide, Haiti and Cuba developed strong ties with considerable benefit for Haiti’s people who suffer from chronic substandard medical care. During the past decade Cuba sent over 500 members of a “medical brigade” bringing different levels of medical care to 75% of the Haitian population.
I have spoken to a number of Cuban physicians over the past 7 years. They work under austere conditions in rural Haiti and many work in urban hospitals in Haiti’s larger cities. The challenges are great, but the Cuban physicians seem to be quite flexible.
When I asked a female Cuban physician if she missed her family in Cuba she replied that the “Haitian people are my family”. I asked another excellent Cuban physician, if he enjoyed being in Haiti. He responded yes that he did and that he could "buy jeans on the street corner in Port-au-Prince". Haiti offers mixed blessings for all foreign physicians that work there.
It has been my experience that the Haitian people trust the Cuban medical professionals in their country. Many of my Haitian patients have been seen and examined by Cuban physicians. The Haitian people believe that the Cuban medical professionals are doing the very best they can for them.
I have seen statistics regarding the influence of Cuban physicians. I do not know where the statistics have originated or whether they are valid, but they are very optimistic.
One report from The Guardian, (March 17, 2004) states, “ In the areas (of Haiti) covered by Cuban doctors, the mortality rate for infants under 12 months dropped from 80 to 28 per 1000 live births, and that for children under five, from 159 to 39 per 1000 live births. The maternal mortality rate dropped from 523 to 259 deaths per 100,000 live births. More than 370,000 Haitians—80% of them children—have been vaccinated by the Cuban teams.”
The Guardian continued to report, “Cuba established a School of Medicine in Haiti, staffed by Cuban professors, to train Haitians to continue the work begun by the Cuban medical teams. At the time of the coup, 247 young Haitians were studying there. Another 372 are studying medicine as scholarship students in Cuba.”
Below are statistics comparing Haiti and Cuba:
1. Prevalence of Tuberculosis--
Haiti: 392/100,000 (Haiti ranks worse than Sudan, Pakistan, Mongolia, North Korea, Russia, and Romania.)
2. Infant Mortality Rate--
3. Access to Safe Water--
Cuba: 91% of population
Haiti: 58% of population
4. Maternal Mortality Rate--
5. Adult Illiteracy--
Cuba: 3% of population
Haiti: 47% of population