Cuba has long been renowned for its medical diplomacy – thousands of its doctors work in healthcare missions around the world, earning the country billions of dollars in cash. But according to a new report, some of the doctors themselves say conditions can be nightmarish – controlled by minders, subject to a curfew and posted to extremely dangerous places, James Badcock reports.
For Dayli Coro, medicine was a calling.
“I studied medicine out of vocation. I used to sleep between three and four hours because I studied so hard. I worked hard in my first year of practice, I took on a lot of extra shifts. And now here I am. I cannot be a doctor in Cuba. It’s very frustrating.”
Dayli, now 31 years old, wanted to be an intensive care specialist. She says that after graduating, she was told that if she went on a medical mission to Venezuela, she would gain experience in her chosen field and that it would count as her three years of obligatory social service, which all graduates have to complete in Cuba before gaining full-status posts.
She agreed to join what Havana calls its “internationalist missions”, following a path trodden by hundreds of thousands of Cuban doctors. Since 1960, their medical work overseas has been held up by the communist government as a symbol of its solidarity with people all over the world. Fidel Castro described the medics as Cuba’s “army of white coats”.
As well as a source of great pride and prestige, it is also an economic lifeline for the regime. According to Cuban government figures and academic studies, the scheme earns Cuba around $8 billion per year in much-needed foreign currency.
With more than 30,000 Cuban doctors currently active in 67 countries – many in Latin America and Africa, but also European nations including Portugal and Italy – Cuba’s authorities draw up strict rules in an attempt to prevent citizens defecting once abroad.
The wages on offer were another strong incentive for Dayli, who is originally from the small Cuban city of Camagüey, to join up. Going from a doctor’s salary on the island of just $15 a month in 2011, she says she was paid $125 monthly for the first six months in Venezuela, a figure that rose to $250 after six months and $325 during her third year. Her family in Cuba also received a bonus of $50 a month.
Q1. What is ‘medical diplomacy’ being practiced by Cuba? How does Cuba benefit from it?
Q2. Why do some Cuban doctors find the work very dreadful?
Q3. What Daily Coro had to do to become a doctor? Why did she readily agree to go to Venezuela?
Q4. How does Cuba make its medical expertise known around the world?
Q5. What sort of pay Daily receive for her work in Venezuela?
Q1. Cuba send its qualified doctors abroad to work there. Through such an act, Cuba earns goodwill from the people in far-off countries. Additionally, Cuba receives valuable foreign exchange. Cuban doctors can be found in as many as 68 countries, mostly in Africa. Cuba’s image as a caring country gets a boost through this practice.
Q2. At times, Cuban doctors get posted to areas that are remote, and rife with armed insurgency. The hospitals also lack equipments, medicines and man power. The warlords visiting the hospitals intimidate the medical staff.
Q3. Dayli Coro had to work very hard to study medicine. She could sleep barely for three hours a day. She agreed to go to Venezuela, because the stint could add to her experience, and get her some money and lot of prestige at home. A doctor has to put in at least three years of work before they are officially registered as doctors. Dayli had this in mind when she signed up for going to Venezuela.
Q4. Cuba is a tiny impoverished country which has been in the cross hairs of the United States for decades. Sending doctors abroad projects a benign, and empathetic image before other under-developed countries in Africa and eastern Europe. It helps Cuba to earn foreign exchange and counter the negative campaign about it by the United States.
Q5. The monthly income starts from just 25 USD a month, and goes up to 325 USD as the work experience increases.