On Tuesday, St. Lucia and Cuba signed a new agreement that would allow Cuba to continue to help in the development of St. Lucia’s public healthcare sector, expanding on years of cooperation between the nations’ health services.
From “Operation Miracle” which provided tens of thousand of St. Lucia residents with eyesight-saving surgeries to scholarships for medical students, Cuba has substantially contributed to the growth of St. Lucia’s public health care system.
“Over the past years, we have reached out to Cuba and they have responded very well, in terms of strengthening our health sector. Cuba has trained many of our health care professionals, has helped us in a range of areas including eye care, nephrology and cancer treatment,” St. Lucia Health Minister, Alvina Reynolds told teleSUR.
The agreement signed by Cuban Ambassador to St. Lucia, Jorge Soberon, and Ms. Reynolds would provide integral quality medical care to St. Lucia residents, specifically in the areas women’s health, nephrology, ophthalmology and biomedical maintenance.
“We’ve been cooperating now for 15 years. The results have been very good, specifically in the area of eye care, but also in other areas that are critical for the continuous quality service for the people of Saint Lucia,” Mr. Soberon told teleSUR.
Since Fidel Castro took power, Cuba has engaged in what some would call “medical diplomacy.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, Castro supported various revolutions worldwide; however, Cuban doctors were almost always sent alongside troops to provide medical assistance.
For example, in 1963, Cuba first sent doctors to Algeria during its war of independence.
Today, Cuba sends tens of thousands of doctors abroad to provide medical services and also provides emergency medical assistance following natural disasters such as the South Asia Tsunami in 2004 and the 2015 Nepalese earthquake.
Castro even offered to send a brigade of 1,500 Cuban doctors to the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but his offer was refused.
Cuba provides more medical personnel to developing countries than all of the G8 nations combined.
In addition to providing medical aid, thousands of medical students from across the globe travel to Cuba to study and train. Most foreign students end up returning to provide much needed medical services to their home countries.
Earlier this month, a group of 850 students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo traveled to Cuba, joining the 1,200 Congolese students already studying medicine on the island.
However, critics have argued that Cuba’s “medical diplomacy” is actually a form of trade that uses Cuban doctors as its main export.
In exchange for renting out the services of medical professionals to developing countries, Cuba receives billions of dollars worth in cash and oil, The New York Times reported in December.
An example of this is Cuba’s exchange agreement with its longtime ally, Venezuela.
As a part of the agreement, Cuba sends about 30,000 doctors to Venezuela in exchange for 100,000 barrels of oil per day.
However, many of the doctors and medical practitioners work for little pay and in exceptionally harsh and rough conditions.
These conditions have led to more than 700 Cuban doctors fleeing Venezuela this year in hopes of obtaining U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPP), which fast-tracks American residency for Cuban doctors posted overseas.
Since it was enacted in 2006 under the Bush Administration, about 7,000 Cuban doctors have used to as a way to gain entry into the U.S.
The Castro government has continuously called for elimination of CMPP, claiming that it promotes defection and attempts to rob the island of its talented medical professionals.
Earlier this month, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama, announced that the CMPP has been placed under review and is considering the elimination of the program.
Josefina Vidal, general director of Cuba’s U.S. Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Cuba News Agency (ACN) earlier this month that elimination of programs like CMPP would help stop illegal migration.