Speech delivered by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the foundation ceremony of the ‘Henry Reeve’ International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, and the national graduation of students of Medical Sciences, in the Ciudad Deportiva, on September 19, 2005.
Newly graduated doctors of the 2004-5 course;
Members of the ‘Henry Reeve’ brigade;
Health professionals who have completed glorious international missions;
Students in their fourth, fifth and sixth years at the Faculties of Medical Sciences in the Capital;
Students of the
Young students of Nursing and Health Technology;
Professors, relatives and guests;
The number of Latin American and Caribbean students from countries in South, Central and North America graduating from the Latin American School of Medicine, together with the young Cubans who graduate here today, amounts to 3,515 new doctors who will be at the service of our peoples and the world.
This figure will increase until ten thousand doctors are graduated every year, to meet our commitment of training one hundred thousand doctors from Latin America and the Caribbean in Cuba in ten years, under the principles of ALBA, signed between Cuba and Venezuela, which will contribute an equal number, in an unwavering attempt to integrate our peoples.
Graduating as a doctor is like opening a door to a long road leading to the noblest action that a human being can do for others.
Although every person and every people has
the right to a healthy life and to enjoy the privilege of a long and useful
existence, the richest, most developed societies, ruled by consumerism and a
thirst for profit, have made the health service into a common business, inaccessible
to the poorest sectors of the population. In many
While statistics speak of developed countries with child mortality rates lower than 10 for 1000 life births, and some boast a life expectancy that reaches or surpasses 80 years of age, others, such as many African countries, have to settle for child mortality rates of over 100 for children under one year of age and often 150 for 1000 life births, and a decreasing life expectancy rate that in some countries fluctuates between 30 and 40 years of age. While the world watches this happen, military spending amounts to one trillion dollars every year, a figure only comparable to one other absurd expense, that is, commercial publicity, which also equals one trillion. Either of these sums, invested wisely year after year, would be more than enough to ensure that all the people of the world lived a decent life.
Neither the climate nor genetic potential are
causing this tragedy. Cuba, a tropical country, with a hot and humid climate, a
favorable environment for viruses, bacteria and fungus, whose population is a
mixture of ethnicities, subjected to a cruel blockade and economic war for
almost half a century, has, despite all this, an infant mortality rate of less
than 6 for 1000 life births under one year of age, a rate that falls just below
that of Canada, and is headed towards 5 and maybe even less than
These words might sound presumptuous if it were not possible to rightly describe our Homeland today as the country that has done more than any other nation in the world to share its medical expertise and experience with other peoples.
Not once, throughout the selfless history of the Revolution, have our people failed to offer its supportive medical assistance to other nations in need of this aid at times when catastrophes have hit them, regardless of wide ideological and political differences, or the serious insults received from the government of any of these countries.
Our concept of the humane condition of the peoples and the duty of brotherhood and solidarity has never been, nor will they ever be, betrayed.
Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and
healthcare professionals stationed around the world are irrefutable proof of
what I am saying. For them, there will never be any language barriers,
sacrifice, danger or obstacles. It is now 43 years since
After more than four decades, and with the special period drawing to an end, the healthcare system has become the most important sector in the exchange of goods and services between our country and the rest of the world in economical terms; but despite this Cuba has not failed to offer its medical assistance completely free of charge to more than 60 Third World countries lacking economic resources. That is how it has always been and how it always will be.
Nothing that I have said, however, can
match the Comprehensive Healthcare Programs created following the devastation
caused by Hurricane Mitch in
We promised to send enough doctors to save
as many lives each year as were taken by the hurricane. At that time, almost
immediately afterwards, the Latin American School of Medicine,
There are now 12,000 students at
Both of us, in the name of the peoples of Venezuela and Cuba, are deeply committed to supporting healthcare, literacy, education, Mission Miracles, PETROCARIBE, ELECTROCARIBE, the struggle against HIV and other important social and economic programs with a strong humane and integration component in our region.
The enormous task of preserving and restoring the sight to no less than six million people from Latin America and the Caribbean, and of training 200 thousand healthcare professionals in 10 years, is completely unprecedented.
However, I am convinced that these
programs will be bettered. On June 30, it was suggested that Mission Miracle be
extended to other countries in the
The great progress made in this field by our country will reach other sister nations in our region by way of the young professionals who are beginning to graduate from the Latin American School of Medicine.
It is a fact that the medical assistance
We could not remain indifferent. No-one
would believe that this aid could be taken as an offence or a humiliation. Our
message was sent to the federal authorities of the
Some have tried to justify this behavior,
citing Cuba’s decision to reject the ridiculous financial offer of 50 thousand
dollars, which, due to obvious historical and moral reasons, in the midst of a
blockade which has cost tens of billions of dollars, as well as the harassment
and aggression of half a century that has cost the lives of thousands of
people, we had to reject. We didn’t offer money, we were offering to save
lives, and our offer still stands today and the next day, as it is and always will
We discussed this issue publicly because
on the long list of countries that offered help, the name of
During the night of September 12, a press
release was delivered to the Granma newspaper and published the following day,
where it was reported that the graduation of doctors from the 2004-5
course would take place at on September 19
“On this day a so far unprecedented organization
will be formed: the International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster
Situations and Serious Epidemics. This will take the place of the Medical Force
formed to help the people of the
By then, 14 days had gone by without any reply to our offer.
During the night of Wednesday, September 14, I met again with all the members of that force, who were in the process of deepening their knowledge, in order to inform them of the statement made by the Governor of Louisiana, which had been received in Cuba that very same day, and the message sent by Bruno Rodríguez, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the content of which I shall read out now, word for word, so that you may all know about it.
Babineaux Blanco, Governor of the state of
“We have carefully read your Executive Order No. KBB 2005-33 establishing the ‘Declaration of Public Health Emergency and Suspension of In-State Licensure for Medical Professionals and Personnel Licensed Out-of-State’, quoting that ‘… although scores of people have been rescued, there are many more persons waiting for rescue, evacuation and medical assistance, and many citizens have suffered or will suffer injury and/or illness…’. The Declaration also states that ‘…the number of medical professionals and personnel currently available to the state to respond to this emergency are insufficient and there is a need to immediately supplement their number in order to serve those affected by this disaster…’”
“I would like to communicate to you that the necessary Cuban personnel, up to 1,586 qualified and experienced physicians, carrying the appropriate medicines that the new circumstances may dictate, that was offered to the United States to assist the population and relieve the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, stands ready to fly immediately to the State of Louisiana as soon as you have the corresponding authorization from the federal authorities.
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, a.i.”
Now, it is September 19, another five days have passed and the federal authorities haven’t said a word. There is, therefore, growing reason to believe that on this occasion the generous and timely offer made by our people will not be accepted.
As the tragedy experienced by the world is
increasingly evident, we confirm today,
The tens of thousands of specialists in Comprehensive General Medicine, as well as Cuban Nursing graduates and healthcare professionals who are presently on missions abroad, or who have completed them, represent an infinite reserve for the ‘Henry Reeve’ Contingent.
Regardless of the knowledge that they have
as general practitioners, the youngest, or the specialists in Comprehensive
General Medicine, which will be the majority, or in other specialties, and
wherever they carry out their functions, be it in our country or another part
of the world, all members of the Contingent must posses a solid knowledge of
epidemiology and illnesses associated with catastrophes, and must master two of
the most common languages; be physically able and, depending on the case, have
the will and preparation necessary to be transferred quickly by different means
to the place where they are urgently needed. Young Latin American and
The ‘Henry Reeve’ Contingent can do more than just help the population in the event of a hurricane, flood and other similar natural disasters. Certain epidemics represent real natural and social disasters. Suffice it to mention, the Hemorrhagic Dengue, which is attacking a growing number of countries in Latin America, and whose symptoms are particularly fatal to children, and other old and new grave illnesses. We can and must find the most efficient ways to combat these diseases. There is a particularly terrible epidemic –let’s call it that-- which has the world in its grip: HIV, AIDS. It is threatening to wipe out entire nations and even vast continental regions.
Our doctors, our scientists, our pharmacists, and in particular the members of the ‘Henry Reeve’ Contingent, must know all there is to know about AIDS, the most efficient ways to combat it, and above all they should realize that these methods must be adapted to the specific conditions of each country.
When the immensely rich developed nations
decide to truly cooperate with countries in
It is necessary to train the doctors
needed in the countryside, in the villages, in the poor and marginalized
We are offering to train professionals who are prepared to struggle against death. We shall prove that there is a solution to many of the planet’s tragedies. We are proving that man can and must better himself. We are proving the value of conscience and ethics. We are offering life.
Long live the protectors of life who graduate today!
Long live the doctors capable of defeating death!
Long live the glorious ‘Henry Reeve’ International Contingent!