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Cuba is Exporting Healthcare Now

ped lectures and training software mean students can study anywhere there are Cuban doctors. The lower training costs make possible a scale of medical education that could end the scarcity of doctors.

Recently, Cuba extended the offer of free medical training to students from the United States. It started when Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi got curious after he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus repeatedly encountered Cuban or Cuban-trained doctors in poor communities around the world.

They visited Cuba in May 2000, and during a conversation with Fidel Castro, Thompson brought up the lack of medical access for his poor, rural constituents. "He [Castro] was very familiar with the unemployment rates, health conditions, and infant mortality rates in my district, and that surprised me," Thompson said. Castro offered scholarships for low-income Americans under the same terms as the other international students -- they have to agree to go back and serve their communities.

Today, about 90 young people from poor parts of the United States have joined the ranks of international students studying medicine in Cuba.

The offer of medical training is just one way Cuba has reached out to the United States. Immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 1,500 Cuban doctors volunteered to come to the Gulf Coast. They waited with packed bags and medical supplies, and a ship ready to provide backup support. Permission from the U.S. government never arrived.

"Our government played politics with the lives of people when they needed help the most," said Representative Thompson. "And that's unfortunate."

When an earthquake struck Pakistan shortly afterwards, though, that country's government warmly welcomed the Cuban medical professionals. And 2,300 came, bringing 32 field hospitals to remote, frigid regions of the Himalayas. There, they set broken bones, treated ailments, and performed opera
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