Cuban healthcare professionals offering services abroad, paid tribute to Ernesto Che Guevara, the doctor and internationalist, on the 50th anniversary of his death.
Photographic expositions, theoretical events, cultural galas, health fairs to promote and help raise awareness regarding illness prevention, were just some of the activities held in communities where Cuban doctors are working to fulfill the humanist legacy of the Heroic Guerilla's example.
In this regard, Dr. Regla Angulo Pardo, director of the Central Unit for Medical Cooperation (UCCM) mentioned the city of Vallegrande in Bolivia, where some 100 of the over 600 Cuban doctors which make up the brigade, joined 18 collaborators assigned to the town, to offer medical care to the population in tents set up in the areas adjacent to the Señor de Malta Hospital.
Similar activities were undertaken in La Paz, Samaipata, and Gutiérrez, areas connected to the history of Che’s struggle in the country. Later they visited the La Higuera school, were the guerilla leader was shot on October 9, 1967, on the orders of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
Angulo Pardo, also a member of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee, noted, “In these tents we provided the population with healthcare services across all specialties, in large health fairs aimed at diagnosing chronic non-transmissible diseases, carrying out health promotion and illness prevention efforts, as well as identifying cases that have not been treated properly.”
She went on to highlight the work of three brigades affiliated with the Henry Reeve Contingent, founded by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz on September 19, 2005, and specializing in disaster situations and serious epidemics. The healthcare professional noted that the brigades are currently offering services in Sierra Leone after intense rains caused mudslides there, as well as in Dominica following the destruction left by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, while a group recently departed for Mexico to aid earthquake victims.
Henry Reeve was a young man from the United States, who at 19 years of age left Brooklyn to join Cuba’s independence struggles against Spain in the 19th century, during which he became a brigade general in the Liberator Army.
Inspired by his example and after learning of the tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Cuba offered to send 1,586 doctors, 38 tons of medicine and medical equipment to the United States, to treat victims.
Then President George W. Bush rejected Cuba’s offer, however the experience served to establish 27 brigades which have gone on to respond to disaster situations in 19 countries.
The director also noted that another rapid response situation occurred as recently as 2014, when three brigades from the Henry Reeve contingent were sent to combat the lethal Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Conakry.
She explained that the Center has lists of qualified professionals willing to participate on such missions, meaning the Henry Reeve groups can be mobilized quickly.
“We have drawn up lists of professions who we can call at certain times and depending on each country’s language (English, French, Portuguese, or others). They feature doctors, specialists, health technology graduates, nurses, and even service personnel such as cooks, chauffeurs, people able to repair healthcare equipment and those responsible for installing and maintaining power generators in field hospitals anywhere they are needed in the world.”
This is possible because the majority of healthcare workers in Cuba have volunteered to go anywhere in the world to help those in need living in remote or hard-to-reach areas, and where sometimes inhabitants have never been treated by a doctor.
Their altruism and high level of professionalism has earned these collaborators the respect and admiration of patients, family members, and local authorities.
The UCCM is responsible for organizing personnel for all brigades and providing each and every collaborator with information regarding the task and characteristics of where they will be working. Here, we have trained more than 372,000 healthcare workers, who have served as internationalists in 172 countries, Dr. Angulo said.
“Here in this Center we bring together collaborators set to travel to different countries as well as those returning to complete their mission after spending their vacation in Cuba. Our professionals work for two years, but some contracts are extended to three.
"The Unit prepares the collaborators assigned to replace these professionals to ensure that the work continues and all services are covered.
"We attend to the almost 50,000 Cubans distributed across 64 countries with which we have medical cooperation agreements,” stated Dr. Angulo.
In light of such altruistic and selfless work, characterized by solidarity and internationalism, the director highlighted the legacy a of Ernesto Che Guevara today. “Che, who taught us the values of humanity, of being a compañero, a friend… who taught us about dignified work and revolutionary activity. This is what our brigades represent abroad.”