Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

April 1st, 2010 11:43 AM

Healing Body and Heart, Cuban-Style: Alternative Health Care in Haiti (Part I)

(Written with Tory Field)

The governments of Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti signed a trilateral accord on March 27 to rebuild the public health system in Haiti. Brazil committed $US80 million toward the effort and pledged to create a national epidemiologic surveillance network. The Cuban contribution includes more than 1,600 doctors, a couple of hundred of whom were already in Haiti when the earthquake hit and who acted as first responders. Most of the medical delegation came shortly after the earthquake, to provide top-quality health care for two years.

Since 1999, a several-hundred-strong team of Cuban-trained and Cuban-sponsored doctors (with individual members rotating in and out) have staffed city hospitals and rural clinics throughout Haiti. Without charge to patient or government, they have focused their attention primarily in remote areas, offering general medical care to many who have never before received it and who otherwise may have died. The doctors also provide eye surgery, and have served as first responders after hurricanes.

The team that arrived since the January 12 earthquake is part of the Henry Reeve Cuban Medical Brigade, a post-disaster operation formed to offer assistance to survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. government refused their help, but the team has since gone to Pakistan after a major earthquake, Indonesia after the tsunami, and a half-dozen or so other places that have suffered major catastrophes. In February, part of the brigade was dispatched to Chile after an earthquake hit there.

The doctors are committed to health care that is free and accessible to everyone, and that is rooted in dignity and respect. One of them, Dr. Wilsos Canton, said that they “don’t consider health care a business, but a right.”

The doctors come from 25 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and the Americas, including Haiti. They were all trained at the Cuban-run Latin American Medical School (ELAM), which has a branch in Venezuela. Their travel to Haiti and all their expenses are covered by the Cuban government. They receive a small stipend for such daily expenses as a soda or snack, but otherwise are 100% volunteer. Regardless of country of origin, they are known throughout Haiti as the ‘Cuban doctors.’

ELAM has also trained, at no charge, 556 Haitian doctors in past years. As a condition for the education, the new doctors must return to work in Haiti.

The young physicians of the Henry Reeve Brigade are working in three hospital sites around the capitol, four community health posts, and hospitals in other towns and rural areas. In Carrefour and Croix-des-Bouquets, they have created field hospitals, where they provide 24-hour services with specialty care in pediatrics, surgery, intensive care, internal medicine, and gynecology. Teams of doctors also travel with backpacks full of supplies into displaced people’s camps to treat those that cannot or do not come to them. Moreover, five teams, working six days a week, have vaccinated more than 70,000 people against dyptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, mumps, and measles.

At 9:00 on a recent morning, after a bus ride through the city’s traffic-clogged streets, five of the ‘Cuban doctors’ hiked up the rocky street with large backpacks full of supplies and medicines. Arriving at their post in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood, they opened the sides of the tent that is permanently stationed there and hung a Cuban flag from it. They unpacked the medicines and arranged a couple of small wooden tables and some metal folding chairs, creating three care stations and a pharmacy.

Dr. David Alderete, an Argentine, sweated in the morning heat. His first patient was a 16-day-old baby, the daughter of a 19-year-old woman. After four days of diarrhea, the baby was malnourished and appeared lifeless. When Alderete lightly pinched the baby’s arm, her skin held the shape of his pinch. He determined she needed to go to the hospital for re-hydration, explained to the mother where to go and who to talk with, and handed her a note for his Cuban colleagues on call at the hospital. She listened, agreed, and wrapped the baby back up in her little blankets. A few steps outside the tent, tears begin flowing down the woman’s face.

Dr. Isaac Cañas from El Salvador said of the team’s work, “I feel proud but a little sad, because what we can do is small compared to the need. It’s our little grain of sand.”

Later that evening, Alderete, Cañas, and other doctors compared notes about patients back at their headquarters, which is downtown in a former annex of a military hospital. Living conditions at the camp are primitive; doctors sleep in small tents and stand in line for showers. The camp is highly organized, complete with rotating chores, late-night guard duties, and early morning meetings. The space also provides community and festivity to sustain the workload. That night the men held a belated International Women’s Day celebration. They decorated the dining hall with paper flowers, and kissed and congratulated the women. The players of a pick-up soccer game ceded the small courtyard as others turned up speakers for the Women’s Day dance party.

A second group of Cuban healers has been at work in Haiti, as well. The Cuban government is sponsoring the Martha Machado Artists’ Brigade, a troupe of musicians, dancers, jugglers, stilt-walkers, magicians, puppeteers, clowns, and painters. In response to the widespread trauma in Haiti, they offer mental health care through art, music, laughter and playfulness.

A collection of artists who first came together after a series of hurricanes in 2008 to perform for struggling communities throughout Cuba, the brigade currently has 50 volunteer members in Haiti. They will remain for a year. They are traveling throughout the country, performing daily outside hospitals, at displaced people’s camps, and in the streets.

On another recent morning, the Martha Machado Artists’ Brigade was outside the Hospital de Renaissance, while inside, members of the Henry Reeve Brigade were treating patients. In the streets, clowns and magicians had the audience laughing, a rare sight in Port-au-Prince these days. Next up was a group of Cubans of Haitian descent who sang in Creole. They pulled children up from the audience and in minutes all were dancing.

One young girl watched from her wheelchair on the sidelines, her face expressionless. One of her legs was amputated and the other was heavily bandaged. Spotting her, a woman in the troupe danced over to roll her into the middle of the group. A small circle formed around her, dancing and singing.

In the grand finale of the performance, stilt-walkers waved Cuban and Haitian flags chanting “Cuba! Haiti! Cuba! Haiti!” while the trumpets and drums moved the crowd in rhythm. Children snaked through the crowd in the Conga line.

At the ceremony to inaugurate the new trilateral accord, Cuban Health Minister Dr José Ramón Balaguer said, “What would the world look like if all men and women lent their skills and solidarity like those of Henry Reeve? It would be a world full of peace, of love – a different world.”

(Many thanks to Conner Gorry of MEDICC for her help with research.)


You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles