December 3, 2016, general practitioner Dr. Rosa María Salazar Gutiérrez left for Brazil as part of the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program. She had undertaken three previous missions in Honduras, Venezuela and Guatemala. In total, she had 11 years of internationalist experience and a professional career spanning 32 years.
She was supposed to be visiting the island, alongside her family, for vacations this month, but the policy announced by President-elect Jair Bolsonaro made this a one-way trip. “We thought that something could happen if Bolsonaro won, but it was all very fast,” she noted.
Dr. Salazar traveled with her husband, also a doctor of the same specialty. They met on a mission in Guatemala before joining the More Doctors program. They were accompanied by their daughter and son-in-law, also doctors.
Rosa María Salazar reported that residents in the municipality of Embu das Artes, where they provided their services, were grateful to Cuban doctors, appreciating the way they explained every condition, how to treat diabetes and hypertension.
This family is an example of a duty fulfilled, medical professionals on the front line, and a case in point that confirms Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz’s belief that “a better world is possible.”
They arrived in Havana on November 26, aboard flight CU-2353. Back in their hometown of Camagüey, they were welcomed by Dr. Regla Angulo Pardo, deputy minister of Public Health, alongside 200 other doctors who returned to the homeland with the satisfaction of having fulfilled their duty.
“It is an outrage that someone could imagine that the dignity of our doctors can be bought, that is why you are more than doctors, because you showed the strength of revolutionary Cuban medicine. You are doctors of body and soul. Proof of this are the demonstrations of affection and respect from your patients and, in general, the Brazilian people,” she stated.
BOLSONARO HAS NO IDEA
Snake bites, diseases they had only seen in books, dangerous journeys, poverty, neglect...
For Cuban doctors who provide their services in other lands, the challenge of doing their job almost always involves taking risks and dealing with situations that were surpassed in Cuba long ago, or have never occurred.
Dr. Roberto Álvarez Díaz knows this only too well. During his long professional career, his experiences range from delivering a baby in the desert, to caring for those wounded in a tribal war.
“One has enough anecdotes to be talking all day,” he stated, noting his outrage at statements by the President-elect of Brazil about Cuba’s doctors.
“Jair Bolsonaro has a fascist attitude, of contempt toward Cuban women, toward internationalist women, toward human beings.”
Speaking in his office at the Abel Santamaría Hospital, the largest health center in Pinar del Río, where in addition to treating patients he also teaches, Roberto stressed that there is not the slightest doubt regarding the high level of training of those working in the More Doctors program.
“I have been a professor for 35 years. All the doctors from Pinar del Río who are in Brazil were my students at some point, and I can assure you that the professionals who are trained in this province have very hard-earned qualifications. Our Medical Sciences University is accredited. In teaching, we are second to none.”
AN AFFRONT TO HUMANISM
They say that wherever they go, they make a difference. That their way of examining patients sparks surprise among those accustomed to being treated from afar, and rarely touched.
Medicine is their job and they are paid for it, but it is not for money that they have entered jungles, crossed the icy peaks of the Andes, or put their lives at risk following earthquakes and floods, or outbreaks of deadly diseases.
“Doctors and nurses trained in our country never separate the human from the scientific, and that is something that distinguishes them,” explained Dr. Luis Vivas Bombino.
Having undertaken four internationalist missions in nations of Africa and Latin America, Dr. Vivas has repeatedly experienced the gratitude that poor communities express to Cuban collaborators around the world.
“It is difficult for a Cuban to be in a place and not become part of that population. That’s why they always welcome us with affection and say goodbye with tears once it’s time to leave,” he noted.
This is also the case for the more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals returning to the homeland after participating in the More Doctors program. For this doctor, it is an unfortunate, but necessary decision.
“The President-elect, with his ideas aimed at promoting militarism and destroying the attempt to ensure dignified living conditions for the poorest population, is solely responsible for this situation.
“Our government has done what it had to do: offer a strong response to prevent the humiliation of our doctors,” agreed nurse Delfina Hernández Breijo.
“I think it is a fair and dignified measure, faced with someone attempting to gain merit with the United States, questioning the work of Cuban collaborators,” she continued.
Meanwhile, nurse Noel Hernández Roque stated, “Jair Bolsonaro has no idea what he was talking about.”
A wide range of services provided inside and outside Cuba, including the fight against the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry and against the cholera outbreak in Haiti, credit the work of these two health professionals.
“The capability and training of our health professionals are more than proven,” Noel stressed.
“When we travel to other lands, we do so with the intention of helping those most in need, following the practice of humanistic and solidary medicine,” he continued.
This often implies having to deal with diseases that have been eradicated in Cuba, or are rarely seen.
“In Cuba, for example, diseases prevented by vaccines no longer exist. But when you leave, you find them anywhere,” noted Dr. Vivas.
“We have come across many patients with malaria, polio, measles, rubella... and we have saved them.
“Before leaving for an internationalist mission, our medical forces are always prepared, taking into account the characteristics of the place where they are headed.”
A BATTLE FOR LIFE
Although it is the most recent example, Dr. Susana González Freije, assistant professor at the Pinar del Río University of Medical Sciences, explained that the President-elect of Brazil is not the first to attack Cuban medicine.
“This is a struggle that we have had to wage before,” she noted, adding that behind this issue there are powerful economic interests that insist on seeing health as a business and not as a right.
However, far from tarnishing its image, every insult toward Cuba evaporates before the example of solidarity and humanism that its army of white coats offers every day, where those who make a fortune from diseases and death don’t go.
“There lies the great difference that can never be concealed,” stressed Dr. González, “For us, you can’t put a price on life.”