KEY ADDRESS BY DR. FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF CUBA, AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE LATIN AMERICAN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE. HAVANA, NOVEMBER 15, 1999.
Professors and students of medicine,
The idea of a comprehensive health program and a Latin American School of Medicine was born after two devastating hurricanes battered the Caribbean and Central American region causing an impressive number of deaths and incalculable material damages. Two of the poorest nations in the hemisphere were among those affected.
The television images of thousands of bodies carried by the waters or partly covered by the mud shocked the world. Such are usually the days of generous offers and millionaire figures. But, the shock fades away in a few weeks and soon everything is forgotten. The great promises are never delivered. Meanwhile, death continues to quietly take more lives every year than those caused by all the natural disasters together.
This institution inaugurated today, just a symbol of what can be attained if we stand together, is intended as a modest contribution by Cuba to the unity and integration of the peoples represented here. Although it was conceived hardly a year ago, it already has 1,929 students coming from distant places in 18 countries where they will return carrying as much science as they will conscience.
Twenty-seven ethnic groups are represented in this school and 1,500 new students will join them every year. We expect to graduate no less than 80 percent of them while rising to full capacity their academic performance.
The Latin American School of Medicine will have an enrollment of 8,000 students who will begin their premed studies as well as their first and second years --the hardest by all accounts-- in these facilities inaugurated today with a capacity for about 3,500 students. Later, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth years they will study in the 20 medicine schools spread all over the country. Ever since their freshman year they will be accumulating both theoretical and practical knowledge. It is a unique institution among its peers in the world.
The aforementioned figures do not include students from English and French speaking Caribbean nations on scholarships in Cuba. These have an open quota to send an unlimited number to pursue university studies --free of charge, too-- at any of our higher education centers.
The students in this institution are not taught politics, as it is the case with Cuban students in our universities. They will rather learn the history of our continent, particularly that of Latin America and the Caribbean.
At this school everyone is free to profess their religion of choice, whatever that may be. The school uses is own transportation to take the students to the temples or cults of their choosing every week.
Efficient hospitals in the neighboring capital city are responsible for providing first class health care to the students. Their diet is reasonably good and, to the extent possible, adapted to their habits.
They have their own University Students Organization. They exchange information and share in cultural functions. Their national songs, dances and customs are nourishing the cultural background of every one of them. Their profound spirit of solidarity and integration will never perish; it will rather become an example of the closest unity in the broadest diversity, a portrait of the future we all dream of.
They will be ready for the next century and we are certain that in a not so distant future as outstanding professionals with their personal computers they will continue to exchange information and creative experiences and initiatives.
The most significant, however, will be their absolute devotion to the most noble and human endeavor, that of saving lives and preserving health. More than physicians they shall be zealous guardians of what human beings appreciate above all else. They will be apostles and builders of a more humane world.
We are confident. We trust that they will be better doctors than their predecessors and professors who are presently giving them the scientific knowledge and expertise acquired in 40 years, both inside Cuba as well as in selfless and heroic services rendered to Third World countries in every continent. They will be doctors ready to work wherever they are needed, in the remotest corners of the world where others are not willing to go. Such are the doctors who will graduate from this School.
At a recent meeting of Ibero-American Health Ministers, innovative and creative methods were discussed for further training in every medical specialty required in the communities they come from. And, as they are studying here or training later as specialists while working in their respective communities, thousands of doctors born and trained in our country will be willing to cooperate with their countries for as long as necessary.
Over a million people, 500,000 of them children, from those sectors in greater need of doctors are dying every year of preventable and curable diseases, both in Latin America and the Caribbean. Tens of millions of Latin Americans are not health insured and this is also happening in such a wealthy nation as the United States of America. Those who will be dying cannot wait.
Dear youths who are already studying in this school, your example will awake consciences and be followed by those professionals who in high numbers and with excellent training have graduated from universities in Latin America. The task of saving millions of lives and offering safe and proper health care to the 511 million people living in Latin America and the Caribbean region can only be carried forward by hundreds of thousands of physicians, the overwhelming majority of whom are technically ready for that.
Distinguished participants in the important meeting that will begin tomorrow, please, accept the homage of this modest effort with which our people have wanted to honor the 9th Ibero-American Summit.