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Cuban Health Care is in a Coma

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment


Youtube video-Cuba, Hospitals (Hijas de Galicia, Luyano)

Armando, 71, was admitted at “Miguel Enriquez” Hospital, in the Havana’s suburb of Luyano, for what was supposed to be a low risk surgery in one leg.

Armando, who is diabetic, was hoping to leave the operating room with no complications and say goodbye to his daughter with a traditional meal and rum. She would be returning to New York — where she has been living for the past 12 years – the day after his surgery. It didn’t happen.

After the apparently successful surgery, he repeatedly had seizures and loss of consciousness. After being checked, the doctor found out that a rapidly growing bacterial infection had already started to devour his body.

Nothing could save his life. The doctor met with the family and, staring at the floor, informed them that the patient had only a few hours to live. “You can say your ‘goodbyes’ now,” said the doctor.

Between tears and surprise, the family kept wondering where he got the lethal bacteria. And the answer left them in awe: right there in the hospital.

The worse part is that this is not an isolated incident. A person who preferred to remain anonymous said that in this year, in the “Miguel Enriquez” hospital, about 30 patients have died after contracting lethal bacteria. “In the bathrooms and in the operating rooms is where they are contracting those bacterial infections,” added the person.

I went to several hospitals and urgent care clinics in Havana and what I saw scared me. With the exception of the National Hospital which was recently remodeled, the former Covadonga Clinic, and the “Luis de la Puente Uceda” urgent care clinic, the rest of the medical facilities’ buildings are in a deplorable state and in embarrassing hygienic conditions.

And the bad news keeps coming. The Cuban public health system is also sinking in the areas of pediatrics and OB/GYN facilities. It was confirmed to me by an employee of the OB/GYN hospital “Hijas de Galicia” in the 10 de Octubre municipality. According to her, last year five newborns died in that hospital due to viruses they caught in the same hospital where they were born.

Adela, mother of a three-year-old admitted in “Hijas de Galicia,” said she spent the night killing the roaches that were all over the room. “It’s an embarrassment. The bathrooms are depressing. The food is disgusting. And, as usual in Cuban hospitals, patient’s relatives need to bring everything from home; fan, sheets, towels and containers to save water. If my son has to go to that operating room, he could get an infection there.”

Despite the deterioration and lack of minimal hygiene, in the hospitals that I visited, there was always a team of doctors in the ER. They lack everything, and they still do everything they can.

The former “Dependiente” hospital is bad, but the absolute worst on the list is the “Miguel Enriquez” hospital. The interior ceiling is nonexistent and you can see perfectly all the electrical wires and AC ducts. On rainy days, the housekeeping staff spreads containers everywhere to catch the water filtering through the roof. Floors are being cleaned with no soap or disinfectant. Where there is some, they usually leave the premises in the personal bag of the employees.

In mental institutions and nursing homes for the elderly, the picture is even worse. One just needs to remember that in January 2010, 26 patients at the Psychiatric Hospital “Mazorra” died of hunger and abuse. In many nursing homes, the elderly have to go out to the streets to sell newspapers and cigarettes, and with that little money they make, the go to some state-ran small eatery to eat a meal as poorly prepared as the one at the nursing home, but at least a little bit bigger.

Without making a big fuss about it, the government of the Castro brothers has tried to do something about it. Last July they fired the public health minister, Jose Ramon Balaguer, one of the Revolution’s “historical figures.”

But things are still bad.

Because of the evident lack of money, the hospitals are repaired in baby steps. People can’t understand how Cuba can send medical help to other countries when the island is in need.

The excuse of the ‘embargo’, when it comes to the purchase of medicines and equipment put forward by the government is questionable. In clinics designated to treat people from the outside, like Cira Garcia or in facilities for the Miraculous Operation patients, a project for eye operations for Latin American people, the hosting conditions and the food are of a great quality.

“Of course, they pay with dollars and the care we receive is free,” explained Joaquin, who has been waiting for two years for an operation of minimum access to his knee. Also the military high hierarchy and the government officials have well equipped clinics and latest generation medicines.

The Cuban public health care is one of the achievements the revolution most boasts about. If the situation is not reversed soon, everything achieved could be lost. That, for a Third World country, believe me, has not been a small achievement.

Iván García

Another Cuban Evil: School Violence

October 13, 2010 2 comments

The Cuban Ministry of Education prohibits teachers’ use of any punishment, whether verbal or physical, on students of all levels of education.

However, although the official media do not report it, through word of mouth from independent journalists, alarming cases of school violence have come to light. In almost all cases they appear to involve teachers with little experience as educators.

A decade ago, Fidel Castro himself made a crusade to produce teachers for the country. Urgently, and with accelerated courses, in one year they trained thousands of “emergent teachers” as they are officially called.

The aim was to overcome the deep crisis in which the national education system was, and is, mired. The low salaries of teachers in primary and secondary means they often spend little time in the classroom, quickly moving on to other jobs.

They desert their profession to work where they can earn foreign exchange, as porters at a hotel or cleaning bathrooms in a restaurant. Into one of these vacant positions 19-year-old Fernanda moved, as a teacher at October 10th Elementary School.

Fernanda lives with her family in an uncomfortable two room house, with three generations under one roof. Breakfast is almost nothing, when she even has it; her salary of 325 pesos (13 dollars a month), does not cover her expenses. She enrolled for a little excitement and to earn some money and become independent. But she doesn’t really have a vocation for teaching and the poor pedagogical skills she acquired don’t help her in her battle with some twenty children between six and eight-years-old.

In her case, as in others’, they often make up for their deficiencies with insults and profanity. And when they run out of patience, they try a smack of ruler or a stick on student’s head or shoulders to make them be quiet and pay attention.

A parent who requested anonymity said her daughter refuses to have anything to do with the teacher Fernanda and she had to take her to a psychologist. And that’s not an isolated case. Norge, 36, a father of two who are in the 3rd and 5th grades in another school in the city, said the verbal and physical violence is alarming.

On top of all this, there is the poor quality of the education. Parents pay between 10 and 20 convertible pesos (12 to 25 dollars) a month to retired teachers who give their children “refresher courses” so that they can learn something.

When a teenager finishes high school and doesn’t make it into the university, he has the choice of studying Teaching or Medicine, the least demanding of the courses of higher education. They’ve been devalued so much that they call them “junk careers” or garbage.

Violence on the part of teachers has led to tragic events. On February 1, 2008, 21-year-old Joaquin Torres, “emergent teacher” at Domingo Sarmiento secondary school, in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, threw an iron chair at a 12-year-old student, Daniel Castaneda, killing him.

That same year at Antonio Aucar Secondary School in Santa Clara, the “emergent teacher” Yaniel Basail, punched the student Daniel Castellanos and kicked him in the face for refusing to eat the bread with mortadella and a glass of soy yogurt offered through the government’s “Battle of Ideas” program.

Not a few parents who have lost patience have taken justice into their own hands, and have gone to the schools to beat the young teachers.

On November 13, 2009, Leafer Perez reported on Cubanet, “School violence that shook up several secondary schools in the 10th of October Municipaility, has reached new levels, which worries the students’ parents.

“In the first days of November, a fight involved dozens of students at Cesar Escalante and Jose Maria Heredia schools. In the dispute, a teacher was wounded in the arm with a knife, and several students received grave injuries. It all started as a challenge between the two schools, which grew into an exchange of gestures and verbal insults, culminating in a huge brawl.

The school principals met with the parents to ask them to check their children’s backpacks, to make sure they weren’t carrying knives, awls and other aggressive weapons to school. Students who repeatedly resort to violence will be dealt with by officials from the Department for the Care of Children in the Ministry of the Interior.

“The addresses for these centers met with parents to ask them to check their backpacks, to prevent their children to carry knives, punches or other articles used for aggression. Students in violent repeat offenders will be treated by members of the Child Care Department of the Ministry of Interior.

“On the other hand, the boys say they have sex in the bathrooms, and the kids who are a part of the subculture known as “emos” get together during recess to cut themselves. They don’t cut their veins, rather they cut into their legs because they can cover the wounds with stockings.”

The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, has not spoken publicly about the increased violence in Cuban schools. The official silence does nothing to curb the situation. On the contrary, it aggravates it. The government should take action on the matter. As soon as possible.