Cuban medical aid to Pakistan


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Cuban medics prepare to leave Pakistan

Author: W. T. Whitney Jr.
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 03/30/06 12:35

Members of Cuba¹s Henry Reeve Brigade are returning from medical work in 
Pakistan where they arrived six months ago, six days after the Oct. 8 
earthquake. Formed last year, the brigade provides disaster relief anywhere in 
the world. Henry Reeve was a U.S. volunteer killed in Cuba¹s first war for 

The brigade will transfer responsibility for 32 fully equipped field hospitals 
to 450 Pakistani army doctors whom the Cubans are training to operate the 

Cuba was initially limited to sending 50 doctors, until a telephone call from 
Cuban President Fidel Castro to Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan¹s president, opened 
the doors. Six months later, the two countries are about to establish diplomatic
relations, Cuba has invited Musharraf to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned 
Movement set for September in Havana, and 1,000 young Pakistanis are eligible to
study medicine free in Cuba.

What happened in between?

Numbers tell some of the story: 75,000 Pakistanis dead, over 120,000 wounded, 
and 3.3 million homeless. Volunteering in Pakistan were 2,465 Cuban health 
workers, 1,430 of them experienced physicians who combined have worked in 40 

They cared for over 1 million people (nearly half of them women), performed 
12,400 operations, hospitalized 12,000 patients, saw 440,000 people in tents or 
in the rubble, and provided 432,118 physiotherapy treatments for 76,183 persons.

They worked in 44 locations, operating 32 of the 44 field hospitals in Pakistan,
dispensing 234.5 tons of medicines and supplies, and utilizing 275.5 tons of 
durable equipment, which was left behind. Some 900 Pakistani medical students 
and army doctors worked beside them.

What the Cubans did in Pakistan is also revealed in anecdotes and testimonials. 
A couple of Cuban doctors, for example, won friends when the jeep carrying them 
stopped, unable to negotiate a steep mountain road. The women doctors went the 
rest of the way on foot, uphill, with heavy packs.

One reporter was struck by how easily the Cubans acclimated to their 
surroundings. ³I¹m awestruck watching young Dr. Noa asking an elderly man about 
... his pain in Urdu.² The doctor shrugged off praise: ³I¹ve lived here for a 
couple of months already. ... It¹s not easy, but I like it. It¹s like camping 
and I¹m a trooper!²

In her diary, Pakistani reporter Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy writes, ³The stench of 
dead bodies still lingers. ... Families huddle close together. ... The tent I 
was sharing was freezing cold. My fingers and toes were numb as I struggled to 
sleep. In the tent behind me a baby wailed. No photograph, television news piece
can do justice to what these people are going through.²

The Cubans demonstrated cultural sensitivity in the face of religious, language 
and educational differences. Many Pakistani women do not accept medical care 
from men. Lives were saved because half of the Cuban doctors were women.

³The Cuban doctors are incredible,² reports Dr. Italo Subbaro from Baltimore. ³I
found a woman with a fractured femur. I called Juan Carlos. ... They operated on
her. Now I go to see her and find her looking at the river and the mountain with
a smile. ... Thank God that the Cuban doctors are here.²

Army Chief of Staff Major General Nadeem confessed, ³We never dreamt that the 
Cubans would come to this part of the world. ... What I saw during my tour is an
expression of the professionalism, commitment and determination of every one of 
you.² A colleague, Colonel Atif Shafique, agreed: ³Cuba is now in my blood and 
in my sentiments.²

The world, all too familiar with U.S. military planes shuttling Pakistani men to
the infamous U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, can now, for example, observe 
Cuban planes bringing Pakistani children to Cuba for rehabilitation, prostheses 
and extra care.

Cuba¹s approach to medicine places human interests first. In Castro¹s words, ³We
train [doctors] with the most modern educational technology, with the ethics 
necessary for them to have as the precept of their future duty to human beings, 
and for them to have as their essential purpose the spreading of health.²


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