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      Internationalism in Action:
      Cuban Medical Team Aids Guatemala in Time of Crisis

      By Tamara Hansen

      Disaster and tragedy struck the people of Guatemala as the Fuego volcano erupted on Sunday, June 3, 2018. According to a CNN report, “Towns were engulfed by thick, heavy ash from Sunday’s sudden eruption. Hot gases, rock and ash, raced down the volcano, killing dozens, erasing hillside communities, blocking roads and leaving behind steaming debris that rescuers had trouble navigating.” This was the Central American country’s most severe volcanic eruption in 45 years. Over 100 people were killed, and nearly 200 are missing, most presumed killed by the devastating blast. Over 1,600 families lost their homes.

      The tragedy of that day was not only due to the forces of mother nature. Evacuations of communities were delayed due to poor communication by Guatemala’s National Coordination for Disaster Reduction (Conred). BBC journalist Will Grant reports, “The national institute for seismology and volcanology says that its conscience is clear, that it issued the relevant warning in plenty of time. It claims responsibility for any failings lies with the civil emergency authority, Conred, which didn’t then act on its warnings.”

      Calls for aid and assistance for Guatemala have rung out around the world. NGOs, church groups, families, individuals and governments have all pledged help to Guatemala since June 3.

      Cuba Arrived 20 Years Ago to Support Guatemala

      Cuba’s Granma newspaper published an article titled, “Cuba arrived 20 years ago to support Guatemala.”

      According to Yuri Batista, the national coordinator of the Cuban Medical Brigade (BMC), Cuba has 431 specialists working in 16 out of 20 departments in Guatemala (departments are similar to states or provinces), including many remote regions of the country. The BMC has been supporting these areas for two decades. Of the 431 Cubans currently in Guatemala, 245 are doctors and 136 nurses. In particular, 39 are members of the “Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade,” which specializes in providing medical relief in disaster zones. Cuba’s “Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade” is recognized world-wide and recently won a prestigious international award from the World Health Organization (see Fire This Time Volume 11 Issue 6).

      The first Cuban collaborators arrived in Guatemala on November 5, 1998, to aid victims of Hurricane Mitch. In the past 20 years, Cuban medical specialists have provided over 43 million medical consultations in Guatemala alone.

      Since 2006, Cuba’s Misión Milagro (Operation Miracle) has helped 185,023 patients recover their eyesight in Guatemala. Misión Milagro is a campaign to remove cataracts and restore eyesight, which Cuba has developed in partnership with governments around the world. It was initiated in 2004 by Comandante Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban revolution. As of this spring, Misión Milagro has successfully completed over 3 million eye operations in 34 countries.

      Cuban Medical Specialists Around the World

      Cuba’s commitment to the people of Guatemala reminds us that free and universal healthcare should be recognized as a fundamental right for all of humanity. As the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted in April 2018, “Cuba is an example for the world.”

      Cuba’s solidarity does not begin and end in Guatemala. According to the World Health Organization Cuba’s “Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade” has travelled to 21 countries to help more than 3.5 million people affected by emergency disasters and epidemics, saving an estimated 80,000 lives since its creation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

      Similarly, 101 Cuban doctors just arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 8 to begin a new medical mission in partnership with the government of that country.

      Cuba’s healthcare initiatives are not only for the world. The Cuban people also benefit from a world-class revolutionary internationalist preventative healthcare system. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is 4.4 per 1,000 live births, the lowest rate in the Americas (including that of the United States: 5.8 and Canada: 4.5). At birth, Cubans are expected to live almost 80 years, one of the longest average lifespans in the Americas. Cuba also has the highest ratio of skilled health professionals to the population in the Americas, with 155 skilled professionals to 10 000 people (including that of the United States: 117.8 and Canada: 119.5). It is because Cuba has an abundance of highly trained medical professionals that the country can spread its revolutionary internationalist medical workers all over the world while maintaining high standards for the Cuban people at home.

      While the people of Guatemala are facing a real challenge in healing and rebuilding after the Fuego Volcano disaster, their strong spirit and perseverance - together with the generosity and determination of Cuban medical professionals - shows us the power of international solidarity and putting human health and development first.

      Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter: @THans01

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