Here’s a long and interesting article on Cuban Medical Diplomacy. Essentially Castro has been exporting doctors all over the place, and now Chavez is using Venezuela’s oil money to pay for it. I was reading along wondering why we hadn’t imported a few Cuban MDs to handle the US inner cities when I discovered that apparently they offered to send 1,000 to Louisiana after Katrina, but were turned down.
The article is pretty favorable, even though it’s clear that the export of doctors and concentration on the medical care system is at least partly a propaganda stunt by the Cuban government. A couple of things worth noting, though.
First, sending doctors overseas to help other poor people may be worthy and all that (and has the positive benefits of upsetting foreign medical associations, as it’s done in Venezuela) but it doesn’t mean that human rights within Cuba are respected any more than there were during the Cold war. And sometimes the lack of human rights compounds the medical problems there. For example a colleague of mine’s daughter went to Cuba to do a medical mission/training and met and married a Cuban doctor while there. That doctor was not allowed to leave with her to go to the US, and when he formally applied to do so, was fired from his job, and no longer allowed to practice. Thankfully he escaped by sea, after several, several terrifying attempts. But there is no justification for refusing to allow people to leave a country; and in this case it caused his medical training to be wasted.
Second, and this is my cynical side talking—isn’t excessive spending on health care something that only rich country like ours can afford? What has a poor country like Cuba gone without to provide doctors for the rest of the developing world?