Cuba offers free medical education to US minority students
It's all about altruism man, not politics. It would be unthinkable in the US to offer much of anything for nothing, let alone a 6-year medical education, but the Cubans have been doing this for many countries in the past, and now Americans may apply. Hundreds of low-income minority students will now be fortunate thanks to Cuba. In the U.S. the same 6-year course of study would run $93,000. No wonder doctors are so grumpy these days with a debt this big to begin a career.
“We have people in the Bronx trying to identify students for the program,” said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y. “This is an exciting idea and I just hope that politics don't get in the way.”
The State Department said it sees no legal problems with the plan.
The scholarship program arose as a result of a meeting last year between members of the Black Caucus, a group of black members of Congress, and Fidel Castro. The caucus will help administer the program. Of the 500 positions, 250 will be reserved for low-income black students, and 250 for low-income students from other minority groups.
“It would be hard for your government to oppose such a program,” Castro said at the time. “Morally, how could they refuse?”
Anti-Castro groups in the USA have denounced the program, as you would have expected calling it a “propaganda ploy”. But Luis Fernandez, an official with the Cuban Interests Section, which represents Cuba in Washington, DC, said that the Cuban government's offer is entirely altruistic. “It is only to help people in the poor communities of the United States”. He said. “There is nothing political about it. We are asking for nothing in return.”
Students accepted to the program will attend school at the Latin American School of Medical Sciences in Havana. Cuban officials say the school has a long tradition of training foreign students from the developing world and currently has more than 3400 enrolled from 23 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
In a speech at New York's Riverside Church (Sept.2000) President Fidel Castro stated, “Cuba has reduced its infant mortality from 60 per 1,000 live births in the first year of life to less than 7 deaths per 1,000.” How does this compare with U.S. infant mortality? I am sure that readers of this column know the answer. The rate of infant mortality in Washington D.C. is twice as high as in socialist Cuba. According to that famous list each month in Harpers, 79 countries, including Cuba, have a lower infant mortality rate than Harlem, New York.
I read somewhere on a list serve that when Castro was in the U.S. he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and spoke with a Rep. from Mississippi, who said that in his district there were areas with no doctors at all. That doesn't surprise me, but it might come as a shock to the readership. The U.S. in many respects has one of the worst health care systems in the world. In many HMO's nurse practitioners are replacing doctors, and already nurse anesthicists are replacing MD's who once were present to dispense anesthesia alongside the surgeons.
Castro also feels that the U.S. has an inferior system. He said in New York “I see you are the Third World of the United States…We are prepared to send you a few doctors free of charge, the same as we do for other countries of the Third World.”
Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in the nation's 125 medical schools, according to studies published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The number of Black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants fell by nearly 7% in 1999; of that year's freshman class, just 7.9% was black and 6.9% Hispanic. The U.S. population is 12% black and 12% Hispanic.
But will Cuban credentials be worth much in the United States? Many Cuban physicians who fled to the U.S. have had difficulty obtaining licenses to practice. This may be political on the part of the USA. In the worst case imaginable, the doctor could sit for the exam in the state where he would eventually practice. That seems to work for all the foreign doctors we have now from India, Pakistan, and all countries of the world. Those credentials seem very high indeed for the rest of the world. Since 1990 in response to an earthquake 39,780 volunteers have worked in 80 different nations Currently there are 429 Cuban doctors in Haiti to be increased to 800 by the end of this year.
Speaking of altruism Dr. Anthony F. Kirkpatrick emailed me the latest in his continuing effort, almost unimaginable in devotion and persistence in spite of very difficult odds, to deliver medical supplies to Cuba. Last Thanksgiving Day he said, “I flew my small plane to Cuba loaded with medical donations from the United States. To get permission, I had to overcome considerable nervousness from Cuban authorities. They feared my flight would open a way for more U.S.-sponsored provocation by private pilots, such as the events that led to the shoot down of two planes by Cuba in 1996.” The whole Miami Herald Editorial by Dr. Kirkpatrick can be found at http://www.miami.com/herald/
It was published February 28,2001
Dorothy Guellec Health Commentary writer firstname.lastname@example.org