A Lesson for the US: Cuba’s Response to Hurricanes

Source:  TeleSUR
August 28 2017

texas aug 2017.jpgResidents struggle through flood waters from tropical storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Texas, August 28. | Photo: Reuters

How a small Caribbean island with few resources manages to protect its people from extreme weather better than some of the richest countries.

A hurricane evacuation plan

Preparedness and prevention are hallmark qualities of the Cuban Revolution. They’re evident in the Caribbean island’s medical sector, educational system, environmental policies and at Playa de Giron in 1961. However, an often overlooked area where these two qualities safeguard the well-being of Cuban families is the development of a hurricane evacuation plan.

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As one-time hurricane, now tropical storm, Harvey continues to wreak havoc in Houston and other areas of Texas and Louisiana, and on the eve of the 12-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, teleSUR spoke with Gail Reed. She is executive editor of the Medicc Review, a peer-review journal about health and medicine in Latin American, Caribbean, and other developing countries, and a journalist who has spent more than three decades in Cuba. We wanted her insight into Cuba’s local preparation and prevention plans, compared to U.S. disaster relief efforts, and how these distinct measures save lives as well as property during severe storms.

Our conversation began with Reed expressing solidarity with the people of Texas and Louisiana, as well as first responders, stressing that their predicament faced with the catastrophic flooding occasioned by tropical storm Harvey is “unforgivable.”

She proceeded to detail Cuba’s intersectoral preparedness and response to hurricanes, which include education, drilling and how the country’s relatively small civil defense force is deployed at provincial, municipal and local community levels when a storm is first detected.

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Reed stressed that while “Hurricanes give you several days warning” the Cuban government “gives seven days warning,” during which time local communities are given ample opportunity to prepare for the worst.

Constant drills

She noted that local leaders are the protagonists of “disaster warning processes based on constant drilling,” which takes place under the rubric of “risk-reduction” in every province, city, town and village.

These constant drills are coupled with an integrated response from local fire departments, health, transportation and other vital public services. Above all, Cuba places “tremendous emphasis on educating the population” to keep communities and families, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.

“A taxi driver can tell you what a hurricane 5 is on the Saffir-Simpson scale and they will give you a whole lecture on what they need to do to prepare,” said Reed.

The journalist also pointed out that Cuba no longer talks about evacuation, but rather focuses on “protection,” which includes reinforcing “a local school” capable of accommodating local communities and pets.

She said that, unlike the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by tropical storm Harvey, all of whom must apply for federal aid, Cubans, despite the country’s vastly inferior economic resources, do not feel as though they will be abandoned “no matter what,” nor subjected to market-driven price gouging of vital supplies as witnessed in Texas today.

Cuba’s “small loss of life and property,” Reed emphasized, is usually significantly less than that seen in major disasters like Hurricane Katrina and now tropical storm Harvey. And the reason is this level of preparation.

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According to Reed, the Cuban approach to prevention policies demonstrate a thoughtful insight into the sheer power of nature and the impact of climate change. The U.S. philosophy of disaster relief, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought, which fails to recognize human frailties.

Reed recalls how in 2005, Cuba, which has suffered over half century of a U.S. economic blockade, offered to send 1,500 medical professionals from the Henry Reeves Brigade to help the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The former U.S. President George W. Bush, swiftly rejected the offer.

cuban medical personnel assemble for Katrina 2.jpg

Cuban medical personnel assembled and ready to assist Louisiana after
Hurricane Katrina; the US did not take up its neighbour’s offer of help


Six Cuban professionals share their experiences of working in Venezuela

Source:  Granma

August 11 2017

by: Alina Perera Robbio | perera@juventudrebelde.cu

Defined by their resistance and hope, six Cuban professionals at a Comprehensive Diagnostic Center share their experiences of working in Venezuela

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Every member readily entrusts their lives to the protection of their compatriots. From left to right: Alberto Ortiz, Sandier Pérez, Milaidis Auty, Yanara Guirola, Roberto Aguilera, and Alexis Ginarte. Photo: Alina Perera Robbio

Yaracuí, Venezuela.– Thousands of books, testament to a venerable work of patience, commitment and courage, could be written from the experiences of every Cuban collaborator working far away from their families, to help people all over the world.

Each one I meet has important stories to tell.

As a general rule, the collaborators support each other, and their work teams become like families, where every member readily entrusts their lives to the protection of their compatriots.

Speaking with six collaborators at the Macario Vizcalla Comprehensive Diagnostic Center (CDI) in the municipality of San Felipe, the intensity of their daily work and the strong, family-like bonds which quickly develop between all became clear.

You have to be ready to face any emergency

Twenty-seven year old Alberto Ortiz Rosales, a qualified intensive care specialist from Yara, Granma province, was the first to speak.

Alberto proudly noted that he has been working in the land of Bolívar for the last 34 months, after graduating in July 2014: “This is my first experience actually working, and it is without a doubt unique,” he explained.

As a “spoiled only child,” Alberto has had to learn to cook and live independently. “Here I didn’t have any other family, just my colleagues,” he recalled.

Regarding his work, the intensive care specialist described his profession as one that “requires you to be composed, because you have to be ready to face any emergency, because a person’s life depends on you making quick decisions.”

In Venezuela he was confronted with illnesses which, up until that point, he had only seen in books. “I’ve got a lot of stories,” noted the young healthcare professional, “but there’s one that stands out: one day a patient came to my clinic. It was 10pm and she had a wound in their abdominal wall, and was diabetic, her life was in danger. At that time, the operating theater in San Felipe was undergoing repairs and there were no general surgery specialists in the Barrio Adentro (Into the Neighborhood) mission in my municipality.

“The woman was out of options, she had already visited other healthcare centers which had referred her to other places. She needed immediate attention. I didn’t have an operating theater, or anesthesia, but had to act fast. So, I gave her a strong sedative and drained the infection, which was very big. The patient’s life was saved.”

According to Alberto, if there is one thing you learn on a mission such as this, it’s the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

I feel human and very fulfilled

Meanwhile, 34 year old emergency nurse Sandier Pérez García, from the province of Cienfuegos, also has experience working in difficult situations which require swift decision making. In his eight months serving in Venezuela he has had to treat various illnesses, witnessed extreme poverty, and attended patients who had never seen a doctor before, and much less been admitted to hospital.

Speaking about the gestures of gratitude he receives from patients, Sandier recalled the joy of those who regained the ability to walk thanks to the committed work of Cuban specialists. “We have had many diabetic patients come to the ward,” he noted, “saying that they can’t bear the pain; that they can’t walk; and they have left happy. This is what gives meaning to my profession. I feel human and very fulfilled with my work; I am grateful to be a nurse.”

Some call me ‘mom’

Aiding those with disabilities and helping others to develop their language and communication skills is the job and passion of 38 year old speech therapy specialist, Milaidis Auty Almenares, from Santiago de Cuba.

The young healthcare professional works with patients of all ages, but children represent a vast group for which she holds a special place in her heart. “Many came to me unable to speak,” she explained “and now they can talk. Some call me ‘mom’”.

Do you have children?

Yes, four.

When you return to Cuba, what will you tell them about your time here?

I’ll tell them that we never took a step back, that we knew how to accompany this beloved people.

Milaidis has many stories she could share with her children, like the one about the three and a half year old patient who arrived unable to speak a single word, and who today, at five years of age, sings nursery rhymes.

Overcome with emotion

Three months were enough to deeply mark 26 year old Optics and Optometry graduate Yanara Guirola González. From the town of Arabos in the province of Matanzas, Yanara has been working in Venezuela for over two years. Currently based in the State of Yaracuí, she spent the first three months of the mission in Delta Amacuro State, where she witnessed extreme poverty and had new experiences.

Overcome with emotion, Yanara recalled her experience traveling over the choppy waters of the Orinoco River, the faces of the country’s indigenous peoples, and situations that forced her to harness a strength she never knew she had; which despite everything, she noted, were worth the effort.

Fulfilling the internationalist legacy of Fidel

Meanwhile, 46 year old physiatrist Roberto Aguilera Navarro, from Santiago de Cuba, noted that the most beautiful thing about the job is “fulfilling the internationalist legacy of Comandante en Jefe Fidel, with his humanism.”

Roberto explained that he had the privilege of receiving his diploma directly from Fidel, when he graduated as a doctor in 2000: “It was the first graduation that took place at the Anti-imperialist Tribunal. He (Fidel) gave me the diploma on August 13, his birthday, and I had the privilege of being close to him.”

Repaying some of the debt we owe to humanity

Another member of this internationalist family explained that he is here to “repay some of the debt we owe to humanity.” Alexis Ginarte Osoria, a 60 year old agricultural engineer, has been working in Yaracuí for the last 18 months, where he has been sharing experiences on how to increase crop yields.

Originally from Santiago de Cuba, but currently living in Guantánamo, Alexis was born in the community of La Lata, in the Sierra Maestra. He studied agriculture, a field which, he noted, he carries in his roots. “I came to continue Cuba’s internationalist work. I participated on a mission in Angola, which had a great impact on me.”

The spirit of resistance and hope

Alexis also spoke about the 15 key economic sectors being strengthened by the Bolivarian Revolution, and efforts between Cubans and Venezuelans to share knowledge about urban agriculture, a field in which Cuba has seen much success, despite lacking resources.

Just like a family, here all share similar emotions; a unique force united by a common element: the spirit of resistance and hope.

170 U.S. medical students graduate from ELAM

August 2, 2017
Source:  Granma

Since the first graduation in 2005, over 28,500 medical students from 103 countries have studied and graduated, completely free of charge, from ELAM

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The Latin American School of Medicine. Photo: Cubadebate

An initiative launched by Fidel

One hundred and seventy medical students from the U.S. have graduated in Cuba, thanks to the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), an initiative launched by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.

Speaking exclusively to the Cuban News Agency (ACN) Zenia Díaz Catalá, director of the ELAM project general secretariat, noted that since the first graduation in 2005, to date, over 28,500 medical students from 103 countries have studied and graduated, completely free of charge, from ELAM.

Dr. David Floyd from the U.S. graduated from the school in 2017, and expressed his gratitude to the Cuban government, people, and teachers and workers affiliated with this noble project, which also stands as an example of how integration among communities from around the world can contribute to creating a more humane world.

An incredible experience

It’s been an incredible experience for me. I’m impressed by the link between theoretical and practical study, which is different from the U.S. system and that of other countries, noted the young doctor.

In Cuba you learn by touching the patient, and solidarity is really important. In my country, students don’t help each other; here both the students and professors support one another and are extremely professional, stated Floyd, an African American man who studied on the island for six years, including pre-med courses.

The young doctor completed his degree at the Salvador Allende Faculty of Havana’s University of Medical Sciences, which saw a total of 52 international students graduate this year – 25 from the United States, according to the institution’s dean, Dr. Suiberto Echavarría, speaking with ACN.

Eternal gratitude for the opportunity

David Floyd senior, father of the recent medical graduate, expressed his joy, pride and eternal gratitude for the opportunity his son has been given to study medicine in Cuba, where the training system is centered on humanist ethics and principles.

Meanwhile, Díaz Catalá noted that the ELAM program currently includes 4,690 students from 112 nations enrolled in 21 of the country’s medical sciences universities, 83 of whom are from the United States.

Cuban skin cancer drug available nationwide

August 5 2017

Source:  Cuban News Agency (ACN)

Heberferon, the only Cuban drug of its kind in the world for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma of the skin, is already available throughout the national territory, barely six months after beginning of the program for its extension.

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During that period, more than 400 patients in the country have benefited from the drug produced by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), which combines the action of two interferons to inhibit tumor growth and eliminate or reduce lesions, including those that are complex, multiple and in advanced stages.

IX Methodological Workshop on Skin Cancer

These results were presented at the First National Workshop of Coordinators of the National Extension Program for the Use of Heberferon, held for two days in the province of Camagüey, in conjunction with the IX Methodological Workshop on Skin Cancer.

Dr. Iraldo Bello, a CIGB researcher and leader of the Heberferon project, explained to ACN that although the evaluation period can be considered short, a favorable impact on the quality of life of patients with the most frequent tumors was evident with the use of the drug.

One of the most encouraging results is the possibility of reducing the need to mutilate sections of skin in places as complicated as the head, when the carcinoma is located near vital orifices such as eyes, nose, mouth and ears, or when has a wide extension, Bello noted.

Data provided by coordinators in all provinces for the extension of the drug show that about six percent of the population evaluated, with their use, could avoid mutilation, even though they had an indication or prognosis of that procedure due to the characteristics of the tumor.

A finding that will allow the extension of the research lines is the systemic effect that causes, that is, it works not only around the lesion but also at an organic level, with benefits for patients with multiple carcinomatosis and extended lesions.

A new therapeutic alternative

Invited to the event, Dr. Priscila Torres, an official of the National Registry of Cancer Registry, assessed the importance of Heberferon as a new therapeutic alternative for tumors of higher incidence in Cuba, with more than 10,200 cases reported in the last census.

More than 60 percent of these cases correspond to basal cell carcinoma, so although the results of patients treated are encouraging, many more patients should be included, she said.

Towards that goal, the drug extension program is underway to ensure that it is present in all areas of primary health care in the country, with a specialized consultation for its implementation, said Yutdelis Roben, coordinator of the project by CIGB.

Although skin cancer is not among those with higher mortality, its incidence is increasing and its appearance has a high aesthetic and psychological cost to the patient, therefore prevention of their risk factors is fundamental.

Cuban Drug Heberferon to Kill Skin Cancer in Holguin

Cuba: Natural medicine facilities to be certified

Havana.— At least ten local Natural and Traditional Medicine (MNT) production facilities, across the same number of Cuban provinces, are set to receive certification for meeting best pharmaceutical practice standards by the end of this year, according to a sector expert. (Photo: http://www.radiohc.cu)

Speaking to ACN, Johann Perdomo Delgado, head of the Ministry of Health’s MNT department, confirmed that centers of this kind are based in Ar­temisa, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.

Certification process

He added that the certification process will be undertaken by the Center for State Control of Medicine Quality, Cuba’s medications governing body, founded in 1989 following the approval of a ministerial resolution.

Perdomo Delgado noted that the main objective of the process is to improve the centers’ infrastructure and technology, and ensure that they receive plant biomass from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Minsap representative also noted these raw materials contain elements essential to on-site and dispensary production of aloe vera, marigold, lime, passionflower, French oregano and pine products, among others.

Prescribed to millions of people

Perdomo Delgado, MNT grade one and two specialist also noted that natural medications and traditional remedies were prescribed to millions of people during the first week of the year alone.

He stated that in addition to providing phytodrugs and bee-derived products, MNT also includes acupuncture and related techniques, homeopathy, flower-therapy, ozone-therapy, hydro-therapy (sun and sea water treatments) traditional therapeutic exercises, and nutritional health-food guidance services.

In 2011, the Center for State Control of Medicine Quality merged with the Center for State Control of Medical Devices to create the Center for State Control of Medicines, Medical Devices and Equipment, although it maintains its original acronym, Cecmed.

Cuba: Promising prospects for the treatment of cerebral ischemia

Source:  Granma
July 28 2016

by: Orfilio Peláez | orfilio@granma.cu

Promising research results

The discovery of the neuro-protective qualities of a new molecule called JM-20, opens up promising prospects for the treatment of cerebral ischemia

promising search results

A new molecule called JM-20 opens up promising prospects for the treatment of cerebral ischemia. Photo:Prensa Latina

Cuban researchers have discovered pharmacological evidence of the neuro-protective qualities of a new molecule called JM-20, opening up promising prospects for the treatment of cerebral ischemia, a serious global health problem.

Next phase of clinical trials on humans

This discovery now means that the next phase of clinical trials on humans can take place. If successful and the neuro-protective qualities of JM-20 are proven, this could lead to the creation of the first product with effective therapeutic properties to treat the condition and its associated effects. The molecule and its derivatives are protected under a 100% national patent.

Scientific entities involved in the study include the Medicines Development and Research Center’s (Cidem) Neuro-Protection Laboratory; the Research Center for Biological Investigations and Evaluations; the University of Havana’s (UH) Pharmacy and Food Institute; Organic Synthesis Laboratory at the UH’s Chemistry Faculty; Institute of Basic Sciences’ Biology department at Brazil’s Río Grande del Sur Federal University; and Cidem’s Histology Laboratory.

Winner of the 2015 Academy of Sciences of Cuba National Prize

Winner of the 2015 Academy of Sciences of Cuba National Prize in the category of Biomedical Sciences, the study has also received a Special Award from Citma for the most important scientific result.

Operation Miracle: an example of humanism and solidarity

Source:  Granma
July 11 2016

by: Jesús Jank Curbelo | informacion@granma.cu

On July 9, on the initiative of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, late president of Venezuela, Operation Miracle – a program providing comprehensive medical care to patients suffering from a variety of eye conditions – was founded

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Fidel meeting with doctors, including Eneida Pérez Candelaria ( far left) and Marcelino Ríos Torres (seated at the table), prior to the founding of Mission Miracle. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Lizet Sánchez

In Venezuela

On July 9, on the initiative of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, late president of Venezuela, Operation Miracle – a program providing comprehensive medical care to patients suffering from a variety of eye conditions – was founded.

According to figures provided by the Cuban Ophthalmology Institute, during its first year only Venezuelan patients were treated under the program, at the Ramón Pando Ferrer Hospital in Havana. Surgeries were also performed in Santiago de Cuba and Holguín.

To other Caribbean, Central and South American countries

In 2005, the program was extended to other Caribbean, Central and South American countries. Initially all patients traveled to Cuba to be treated, however in 2006 ophthalmology centers were set up in various nations, making treatment more readily available to those most in need.

In order to carry out the program modern technology was purchased and the island’s ophthalmology services underwent a restoration process. Many Cuban specialists, nurses, technicians and engineers were trained, while the Cuban Ophthalmology Faculty was also founded, from which over 600 specialists have graduated to date.

Initially implemented in Cuba

Operation Miracle was initially implemented in Cuba, where it has been gradually perfected over all levels of the healthcare system nationwide.

According to the report, today there are currently 65 ophthalmology centers, equipped with 93 operating theaters, in 18 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, providing treatment to people in 34 nations. 

Soon two million surgeries will have been performed under what is now known as Mission Miracle, “a precedent in our history of ophthalmologic collaboration around the world, which makes said program a further example of the internationalist character of our healthcare system,” noted Dr. Juan Raúl Hernández Silva, the first Cuban ophthalmologist to perform eye surgery in Venezuela in 2005.