From LA to Cuba: Health Care Exchange Organized by Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

From LA to Cuba: Health Care Exchange Organized by Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science
Fecha de publicación: 
24 June 2024
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Since 2018, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science has participated in delegations between Cuba and South-Central Los Angeles. These academic exchanges are part of a longer tradition of solidarity between faculty and students in the CDU Department of Urban Public Health and the Escuela Nacional de Salud Publica. The objectives are to teach the students the Cuban Health System through lectures and site visits. Upon returning from their delegation, they invite the CDU community to attend and learn from the travels and to apply lessons learned locally.

For this year’s report back, Dr. Bita Amani, the CDU co-faculty who directs the Cuba Health Exchange, outlined reasons why they continue to go to Cuba. She started off by explaining that Cuba has much to teach and CDU wants to learn to better serve the surrounding South Central Los Angeles community.

The program is co-taught by Professor Kathryn Hall-Trujillo who has taken students to Cuba across universities and organizations for decades. Professor Kathryn Hall-Trujillo spoke of a resolution passed by the Cuban Ministry of Health and the Cuban school of public health in recognition of the academic exchange. She explained how the trips “have reminded the students that what they saw and felt in Cuba that brought them to tears was the spirit of humanity that resides in all of us who choose to do the work of caring for others.”

Many lessons learned were discussed with the most important one being solidarity. When Cuban doctors travel across the world to West Africa to fight Ebola, everyone benefits because diseases do not stay in one place. CDU students directly benefit from learning about Cuba’s experiences in fighting Ebola and other infectious diseases they combat. Dr. Amani also discussed how the history of Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) is also a reflection of that solidarity. ELAM has over 100 nations represented and has produced over 30,000 doctors and this mission is important to the surrounding community.

Since the beginning of the program, about 75 health professionals including doctors, nurses, health and social workers, and research faculty have participated in one of the annual Cuba Public Health Immersion Courses for 2 weeks in Cuba. The students who attended this last March came and spoke of their experiences, what they learned and the Cuban model of, especially, maternal health care they want to emulate in South Central where disparities in infant mortality persist. Alumni and faculty who have also gone in the past were also in attendance.

Attendees highlighted how the Cuban health care system is free to the Cubans…from pre-natal care till death. Their expansive programs are recognized as some of the best in the world. By comparison, in the US where millions have no health care and millions pay exorbitant fees to insurance companies and hospitals, health care has been free in Cuba for 65 years. In 2022 the US graduated 28,752 doctors (number is limited by slots in medical schools to ensure maximum salaries) out of a population of 335 million, or 1 doctor for every 11,000 people. Cuba graduates 10,000 doctors annually out of a population of 11 million, or 1 doctor for every 198 persons.

Students who recently participated in the two-week program, where they learned through 60 hours of lectures and two different site visits daily, were impressed by the accessibility of healthcare, development of several Cuban anti-covid vaccines (that doctors tried on themselves first before giving them to the people (down to 2 years old), despite the US blockade. Money raised in the United States purchased 6 million syringes; they carried out a successful vaccination campaign and shared their vaccines with the world. Another student described the structure of Cuban Healthcare which has 451 polyclinics, 10,782 consultation offices.

The recent passage of the Family Code expanded rights not only of women, children and LGBTQ, but all Cubans. They highlighted how this was a progressive reform.

Speakers also informed the crowd of the production in biotech divisions that produce drugs that have the greatest impact.

Some of these prevent lung cancer, others, like Heberprot-P promotes healing of diabetic ulcers and reduces the risk of limb amputations resulting from long-term diabetes. Cuba has reduced amputations by approximately 70%. Yet this drug has been banned in the US due to the blockade where it could help reduce the 75,000 amputations performed annually here as part of a massive diabetes epidemic, especially amongst youth due to poor diet and junk food. The US people lose out.

The class of ten students and four professors, also brought medical supplies delivered to hospitals and clinics from Not Just Tourists. “We felt safer in Cuba than most places in the US I have ever visited”, one female student added. In ending the meeting, they issued a call to action to work together as Cubans do, to improve public health and nursing in the US.

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