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Media Blackout

Steven Gaal

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Len I mean that your declaration is wrong for many and varied reasons.


I think you need to look deeper into the Cuban electoral process.

Look, Len , you asked me to find articles that one can get in Cuba. To do that I'd need a list. You state categorically that the articles you ask for don't exist, so it seems to me that you have done some research on the matter, a list would be really helpful. Not just to me but to anyone interested in this matter.

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Cuba's health care alternative

Saturday, March 20, 2010 - 11:00 By Tim AndersonOn March 15, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, spruiking his plans to revamp Australia's ailing health care system, was told by Queanbeyan Doctor Jeannie Ellis, who has spent some time in Cuba, that he should look to the Caribbean island for ideas on how to develop a decent public health system.

Rudd replied: "You're the first one to advocate the Cuban healthcare system to me."

It is understandable that most Australians don't know much about Cuba's remarkable achievements in health. The corporate media says little about Cuba that is not full of malice.

Indeed, the same corporate monopolies that rail against socialist Cuba have campaigned quite effectively against a decent public health system for the richest country on Earth — the United States.

Rudd's claimed ignorance, however, is less understandable. If genuine, our prime minister neither reads his mail nor pays much attention to our region.

In January 2008, I and more than 30 other academics, health professionals and aid workers sent Rudd a letter asking the Australian government to "match" Cuba's offer of 1000 medical scholarships to East Timor.

We wrote: "We urge your government to begin a large scale public education program for the East Timorese, matching the Cuban offer of 1,000 scholarships, in areas in which we have great capacity, such as teacher training."

I was the spokesperson for the group and have never received a reply.

In early March, I met my friend Juvencio Dias in Dili. I have known his family for several years, and visited him in Cuba while he was studying medicine. We spent a couple of days together, discussing health and development issues.

Late last year, Juvencio was part of the first group of 18 students to return home to East Timor to complete their sixth and final year. At the moment, they are practising in Timor's districts under the one-to-one supervision of Cuban doctors.

They are set to graduate in September 2010.

I asked Juvencio if he had delivered any babies — yes, eight, he said. At the primary health care level, he has his hands more than full with the typical demands of his country: treating malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, pulmonary infections, intestinal parasites and one of the highest childbirth rates in the world.

Juvencio left for training in Cuba in 2003. He was followed to Cuba by further 700 young, smart East Timorese students — all had completed year 12 with better than 70% marks in science subjects.

Another 200 have been studying exclusively in Timor, under Cuban supervision.

Over the next year, 500 of the students in Cuba will return home, in small groups, to complete their fifth and sixth year studies — and join a health system that never previously had more than 50 doctors.

They will practice as they study and a number will begin to teach very soon after they graduate.

Among Timorese doctors, there is something of a culture clash. Those trained in Indonesia (like doctors in Australia) see medicine as a profession where private practitioners charge for services.

However, those trained by the Cubans see themselves as salaried public servants, treating people as a matter of social obligation.

The Cuban medical training program in East Timor is the most dramatic, yet most under-reported, development in health aid in our region.

Cuba is also training another 150 students from the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Nauru, Tuvalu and Tonga.

An Australian PM with an interest in aid and foreign affairs should have been paying attention to the emergence of the largest health aid program in the Asia-Pacific region.

Cuban health aid to our island neighbours is now more substantial than all other countries' health aid programs put together.

Why would Rudd not know this?

Among the lessons that can be learned from Cuba's health programs at home and abroad is that a large expansion in the training of health workers is a step in the right direction.

Of course, this has to be matched by resources for the medical faculties and by new positions in the hospitals.

Salaried positions in hospitals and regional health centres will be the key to a wider and more equitable spread of health services, especially in rural areas. Private practitioners can never meet the needs of rural or disadvantaged communities — in rich or poor countries.

The Cubans know and have been working with this simple fact for some time.

One reason medical training in Australia has fallen is pressure from a strong private profession that does not want competition. Another reason is reliance on imports.

On the one hand, we have an aid program that pretends to share training with poorer countries. On the other hand, we "poach" professionals from those countries with our "skilled migration" program.

The Cubans recognise the "brain drain" of health professionals is a major problem for developing countries. Their response is to massively expand training, promote health as a right and focus on building a large group of salaried professionals with a public service ethos.

East Timor's former health minister Dr Rui Araujo considers this ethos to be the most distinctive feature of Cuban medical training. He says the Cubans train health workers "to serve the public and not trade the services".

Is that the sort of ethos we would like to see in Australia?

[Tim Anderson has produced two short documentaries on Cuban health programs in our region: The Doctors of Tomorrow and The Pacific School of Medicine. A fuller article by him on the Cuba-Timor Leste program entitled "Solidarity aid: the Cuba-Timor Leste health programme" can be found at

From GLW issue 831

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East Timor: Cuba 'taught me to love people and be independent'

Sunday, November 6, 2011 By Marce Cameron


Dr Merita Armindo Monteiro (left). Photo by Tim Anderson.

In October, the Sydney branch of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (ACFS) toured Dr Merita Armindo Monteiro, an East Timorese doctor trained for free in Cuba. Armindo Monterio is also an activist in the Timor Leste-Cuba Friendship Association.

Since 2004, Cuba has undertaken a large-scale medical training program for East Timor and sent hundreds of Cuban medical personnel to work on the island. Cuban medical collaboration in the region has since been extended to Kiribati, Nauru, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. Papua New Guinea may soon benefit from Cuba's generosity as well.

More than 1000 youths from East Timor and Pacific island nations have undergone medical training thanks to Cuba, most of them in Cuban universities. This "South-South" collaboration is transforming the health systems of these poor countries.

Socialist-oriented Cuba's solidarity aid is a stark contrast to Australia's oil grab in the Timor Sea and the miserly scale of its regional scholarship programs. Concern over Cuba's growing prestige in Australian imperialism's "backyard" may be one reason why the Australian government has expressed a desire to collaborate with Cuba in the Pacific.

Green Left Weekly's Marce Cameron spoke with Armindo Monteiro. A longer version of this interview can be read at Cameron's blog , www.cubasocialistrenewal.blogspot.com .

What is the state of health care in East Timor and what has been the impact of Cuba's medical collaboration in recent years?

The health system in East Timor is being built up on the basis of primary and secondary care. We have the Guido Valadares National Hospital in the capital, Dili, and five regional hospitals in Oecussi, Suai, Maliana, Maubissi and Baucau. We also have health clinics located in every corner of the country.

In the regional hospitals, we offer both major and minor health services, including some specialist services such as gynaecology, and we carry out some operations.

For very complicated cases we may need to refer or transfer the patient to the national hospital in Dili so they can receive more specialised attention; this is also where they have the most advanced medical equipment.

I see Cuba's medical presence in East Timor as very positive. When I left East Timor to begin my medical studies in Cuba in 2004, there were still only a small number of Cuban doctors in East Timor, but when I returned there were many more. They are distributed all over the country in the hospitals and in almost every local health clinic, attending to people who live very far from the nearest hospital.

In some cases, patients find it a bit difficult to get to a hospital so the Cuban doctors visit them in their homes. This is very good.

People often comment that they're very satisfied with the medical attention they receive from the Cuban doctors. Many people tell me that the Cubans do an excellent job. I'm not saying this because I studied medicine in Cuba, but because of my own experience and because of what some East Timorese families tell me about the Cuban doctors.

What motivated you to join the Cuban medical training program?

I'd always wanted to study medicine, but since my family is poor they couldn't afford to pay for me to study medicine in another country such as Indonesia. So I decided to take part in the Cuban scholarship program.

Before that I had wanted to study nursing, but when I graduated from senior high school the nursing college was closed at that time. I then enrolled in the university [in Dili] and had been studying public health for two years when I was granted the scholarship to study medicine in Cuba. So I left public health to participate in this program.

Where did you study in Cuba?

I spent the whole of my time in Cuba in Ciego de Avila province in the centre of the country, initially in a place called Moron where I did nine months of preparatory studies before doing first and second year medicine in [the provincial capital] Ciego de Avila. I then returned to Moron to study my third, fourth and fifth years of medicine.

For my final year I returned to East Timor and studied at the Guido Valadares National Hospital in Dili.

Did you live with a Cuban family?

Not exactly with a Cuban family, because we had a scholarship and we stayed in a college with other companeros. A lot of people lived there, many students from Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Asia; people who spoke English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, many languages. We all lived together very harmoniously like one big family. We keep in touch.

Can you share with us some reflections on your experience in Cuba?

The Cubans taught me many things. They taught me to be independent; they taught me to love people more than simply as human beings; they taught me to embody this great love and to express it in the treatment of my patients; they taught me how to live among the people; and they taught me how to make the most of the scarce resources available to them.

Cuba is a country with different ideas. It is blockaded by the United States, but it keeps going and it has developed very good health and education systems which I greatly admire.

Our country doesn't have to change its ideas, but I do hope that one day with the development of its health and education systems, East Timor's can be like Cuba's.

What is the purpose of your visit to Australia?

I'm here to exchange ideas about the work of the two organisations, the ACFS and the Timor Leste-Cuba Friendship Association. In the first place, to support Cuba since both groups have the same objective. For example, to call for the release of the Cuban Five political prisoners in the US and campaigning to end the US blockade of Cuba.

We've been discussing various ideas to act on, about how to strengthen these links between Australia and Cuba, East Timor and Cuba and Australia and East Timor.

From GLW issue 902

edit typo

Edited by John Dolva
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