Cuban doc­tors de­liver ur­gent health­care to Haiti

In the grip of a ram­pant cholera epi­demic and still reel­ing from the 2010 earth­quake which claimed 316,000 lives, Haiti is a coun­try in ur­gent need of a help­ing hand. Thank­fully, a ded­i­cated band of Cuban doc­tors – many spe­cial­is­ing in eye­care – are up to

Outlook - - CONTENTS - By Pa­tri­cia Grogg

Still reel­ing from the 2010 earth­quake, Haiti is a coun­try in ur­gent need of a help­ing hand. Thank­fully, ded­i­cated Cuban doc­tors are up to the task and have so far saved over 300,000 lives.

It's Satur­day, and the en­trance hall of a po­lice sta­tion in front of the busy mar­ket in Salomon in the Haitian cap­i­tal has be­come an im­pro­vised health post. In a few min­utes there is a long queue of peo­ple wait­ing to be seen by the Cuban med­i­cal brigade.

The po­lice of­fi­cer on duty said he was not au­tho­rised to speak to jour­nal­ists, but the ex­tent of po­lice co-op­er­a­tion is ob­vi­ous. The po­lice sta­tions' ta­bles and chairs are quickly lined up along the en­trance hall to fa­cil­i­tate the work of La Re­nais­sance hos­pi­tal work­ers, who carry out preven­tive health work here once a week.

"We are a mo­bile clinic," said Da­marys Vila, the head of La Re­nais­sance hos­pi­tal, which is staffed by the Cuban med­i­cal mis­sion. "We check for high blood pres­sure, cataracts, ptery­gium (a be­nign tu­mour of the con­junc­tiva) and glau­coma," she said. " We send peo­ple with these con­di­tions to the hos­pi­tal." Women are the ma­jor­ity of those wait­ing in line. "Women have the high­est rate of high blood pres­sure be­cause they bear the great­est bur­den of labour. Then there are di­etary fac­tors, like eat­ing too much hot, spicy food, re­fined flour and salt," she said.

"Many peo­ple have their blood pres­sure taken here for the first time in their lives," Vila said.

On a tour of this un­usual health post, where in a sin­gle morn­ing 167 poor women and men re­ceive at­ten­tion, expressions of grat­i­tude abound. "We seek out the Cuban doc­tors be­cause they treat peo­ple well and they don't charge. We are poor, we can­not af­ford to pay," said a res­i­dent of Port-auPrince be­fore she raised the heavy load she was car­ry­ing on to her head. The first Cuban med­i­cal brigade to Haiti ar­rived on De­cem­ber 4, 1998, bring­ing re­lief in the af­ter­math of hur­ri­cane Ge­orges. Since then co-op­er­a­tion has been un­in­ter­rupted and has had a de­ci­sive effect in this im­pov­er­ished coun­try, which in 2010 suf­fered an earth­quake that killed 316,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment fig­ures, along with an on­go­ing cholera epi­demic that has also claimed thou­sands of lives.

Dur­ing this pe­riod Cuban med­i­cal per­son­nel have seen 18 mil­lion pa­tients, car­ried out 300,000 op­er­a­tions, saved 300,000 lives and re­stored eye­sight to 53,000 peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, there are 640 health pro­fes­sion­als in in­clud­ing 357 women.

The in­ter­na­tional health­care aid to Haiti stands out not only due to its scope - it reaches the en­tire coun­try - and its hu­man­i­tar­ian im­pact, but also be­cause it is pre­par­ing the coun­try for the fu­ture by putting in place a pub­lic health sys­tem, in­clud­ing the re­con­struc­tion of hos­pi­tal in­fra­struc­ture.

Fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions to­wards these ef­forts come from Cuba, and also from Aus­tralia, Ger­many, Namibia, Nor­way, South Africa, Venezuela, and to a lesser ex­tent from other coun­tries. The Cuban pro­gramme in­volves re­mod­elling and build­ing 30 com­mu­nity hos­pi­tals to act as ref­er­ence cen­tres, more than half of which have al­ready been com­pleted. Some 39 Haitian health min­istry units are to be fit­ted out as health­care cen­tres, with or without beds, as well as 30 com­pre­hen­sive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion wards. of­fi­cial Cuban Haiti,

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