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Cuban solidarity in Haiti

Haiti medicos cubanosCuba responds to recent earthquakes in Haiti, continuing 20 years of medical collaboration. The Cuban medical brigade in Haiti once again provided this people with timely help after an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale struck at 8:11 p.m., October 6, perceptible throughout the country.

The northwest of the country was the worst hit. Dr. Oscar Fonseca Almaguer, in charge of the group of Cuban medical personnel working in the department of Artibonite, received a call from the director of the La Providence Hospital following the quake, and all personnel were immediately mobilized to treat those injured following the collapse of homes and the local church in the commune of Gros-Morne.

“We quickly sent a team to Gros-Morne consisting of a surgeon, an anesthetist, an orthopedist, a scrub nurse, a laboratory technician, and four Comprehensive General Medicine specialists. Among those rescued was a Haitian doctor, a wall of his home had collapsed on top of him, which caused a giant hematoma in the lumbosacral region. He was operated on urgently, without any complications. They also reported that 11 patients had been treated there, none serious,” explained Evelio Betancourt Tamayo, head of the Cuban Medical Brigade in Haiti.

A surgeon and an orthopedist were subsequently sent to Port-de-Paix commune, where they attended seven patients, none in a life-threatening condition, all with minor injuries and most suffering panic attacks. That team joined a group of paramedics to assist in search and rescue efforts.

“They all arrived around 6:30 am on October 7. From that time until four in the afternoon, no new cases were reported, so it was decided to relocate those collaborators to the Bassin Bleu commune, about 30 kilometers from the site, so that they would be ready to provide their assistance if needed, together with the 28 collaborators already working there,” Betancourt explained.

Leaders of Cuban personnel stationed in the Nord-Ouest and Artibonite departments visited the Port-de-Paix district to evaluate damages on the 7th, and met with Haitian authorities. The first 5.2 magnitude aftershock occurred that day, and was felt in the departments of Nord-Ouest, Nord, Artibonite, and Nord-Est.

Port-de-Paix’s hospital was practically unusable due to the extensive damage it suffered. Twelve Haitian doctors, nurses and paramedics provided services in the areas surrounding the institution, as even the operating room was in danger of collapse.

On October 8, at one o’clock in the morning, another quake of magnitude 4.2 was reported, 33km from Port-de-Paix, with no reports of material damage or loss of life. It wasn’t felt in any other departments of Haiti. There were no further aftershocks, and the country began to return to normal.

The 581 Cuban collaborators who work in the country are guaranteed one hundred percent of reserves in emergency situations. The leadership of the medical brigade immediately contacted those closest to the events to learn of the situation on the ground.

“In none of the sites where we work and live were there any lamentable incidents, nor in those communes,” Dr. Betancourt Tamayo told Granma International. The epicenter of the quake was located in the sea, near Tortuga Island.

As of October 9, no Cuban personnel remain working in the affected area, since their presence is no longer required. However, 28 collaborators continue to be stationed in the nearby commune of Bassin Bleu, and are ready to respond to any aftershocks.

The head of the Cuban Medical Brigade pointed out that at the moment, collaborators are planning a series of activities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the island’s health cooperation efforts in Haiti. “Two groups of the brigade are carrying out screening, and running mobile clinics in the communes of Gros Morne and Port-de-Paix, in order to opportunely detect new cases of disease,” he concluded.

The Cuban medical brigade arrived in Haiti in 1998, with about 350 members, as a result of the destruction caused by Hurricanes George and Mitch.

In 2010, the brigade increased to include more than 700 personnel, who were joined by 380 graduates of the Latin American School of Medicine from 27 countries, to respond to the emergency situation in the aftermath of the earthquake that killed at least 220,000 people, injured another 300,000 and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless.

Cuban medical collaborators also helped the Haitian government control the serious cholera outbreak that ensued, which claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people.

Today the Cuban medical brigade in Haiti is made up of 581 collaborators, of whom 173 are doctors and 331 are women.

The Cuban Medical Brigade is responsible for:

- 21 community referral hospitals

- 31 rehabilitation wards

- 14 health centers

- 1 Operation Miracle ophthalmological center

- 1 comprehensive care room for collaborators

- 1 ortho-prosthesis workshop

- 1 electromedical workshop

Services provided over 20 years of uninterrupted solidarity:

- 29,671,562 patients attended, of whom 11,279,654 in their own homes

- 577,421 operations, including 201,477 major surgeries

- 178,104 deliveries (18,390 by caesarean section)

- 71,859 patients treated through Operation Miracle (ophthalmology)

- 320,941 lives saved

Source: Statistics provided by the Cuban Medical Brigade in Haiti


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