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Cuban Aid in Haiti, One Year Later

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One year after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, Haiti is far from recovered and Haitian families are still struggling to survive.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, many countries and international organizations were quick to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti. Despite the outpouring of aid, recovery is painfully slow; and health care is a particular problem. Poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water and crowded conditions in camps have added to the strain on the nation’s limited healthcare system. The nation has been further devastated by a massive cholera outbreak that has claimed over 3,400 lives.

According to an article by Nina Lakani, published in the UK newspaper, “The Independent,” Cuban medical brigades are one of the most important international  healthcare providers today  in Haiti. Heroic work on public health is also being accomplished by nongovernmental groups such as Partners in Health and Medecins san Frontieres, among others.

Cuba prides itself on the expertise and training of its medical professionals, as well as their international medical teams that assist in-need countries. Little international recognition has been received for their heroic work in Cuba. Cuban doctors and nurses have been stationed in Haiti since 1998.When the earthquake hit last year, there were 350 Cuban medical personnel ready to help; and today, over 1,200 Cubans are located throughout Haiti to address those affected by the earthquake and the recent cholera outbreak.    However, as Lakani noted, “amid the fanfare and publicity surrounding the arrival of help from the US and the UK, hundreds more Cuban doctors, nurses, and therapists arrived with barely a mention.” Now, the Cuban medical brigade is the largest foreign group treating about 40 percent of cholera patients in Haiti. Rather than focusing solely on Port au Prince, they are traveling throughout the countryside to reach cholera patients in remote rural areas. “The Cuban doctors are working in the most difficult places. It’s our policy to concentrate on areas outside the national capital,” the coordinator of Cuba’s medical brigade told Reuters. Even before last year’s devastating earthquake, Cuban doctors in Haiti had been helping establish a holistic healthcare system that could address the multiple health issues that plagued the country by focusing on prevention as well as treatment.

Since the U.S. embargo has restricted many of the medicines and medical supplies that Cubans would be allowed to buy, this style of preventative medicine takes into consideration the scarcity of these supplies and focuses on resourceful prevention methods in addition to treatment.  Introducing the Cuban health-care model into the Haitian context makes sense, as it similarly has limited resources. The restrictions of the U.S. embargo have already had an impact in post-earthquake-ridden Haiti, as some Cuban doctors were not allowed to use some medical supplies during the first-response because they originated in the United States (see our earlier post for details). Now a year after the earthquake, the need for cooperation between the United States and Cuba—at least in Haiti—is even more imperative, especially since Cuban doctors are critical to the recovery of the health care system and the emergency response to the cholera epidemic.. If the United States really does want to aid in the rebuilding of Haiti, we will have to face our Cuba policy too.  It is time.