Medical Group Voices Concerns Over Delays in Healthcare Delivery to Katrina Victims


ATLANTA -- A prominent U.S. medical group voiced "deep concern" over delays in healthcare and epidemic prevention reaching Katrina victims, and urged U.S. authorities to accept Cuba's offer of 1586 disaster-trained physicians to prevent a "second wave of sickness and death."

The latest reports indicate the U.S. State Department is backing away from the offer, implying they are not needed.

"Up to this point, there been a clear need for more medical help for Katrina victims," said Peter Bourne, MD, chairman of the group Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba (MEDICC), and former special adviser on health in the Carter White House and former Assistant Secretary General at the United Nations (UN). "The Cuban physicians are accustomed to working in difficult Third World conditions without the resources and supplies most of us are accustomed to. Since they are just an hour away, it is a shame that they have not been allowed to join our committed medical corps already."

He is joined by other physicians, medical educators, international health experts and a former U.S. surgeon general associated with MEDICC. From 1998 through 2004, MEDICC has provided medical electives in Cuba for nearly 1,000 students and faculty from 118 U.S. medical, public health, and nursing schools.

Cuba has been recognized by the UN, Oxfam, and other international organizations as a leader in disaster response, expertise that could be saving lives now," said Dr. William Keck, former long-time director of the Akron, Ohio Department of Public Health.

A 2004 Oxfam Report, Weathering the Storm: Lessons in Risk Reduction from Cuba, states that there are real lessons to be learned from Cuba on how to safeguard lives during extreme natural disasters, including getting medical attention to vulnerable populations. On Aug. 30, Cuba first offered U.S. authorities hurricane relief in the form of 1,100 disaster-trained bilingual physicians, each equipped with 52-pound backpacks of medical supplies, including rehydration therapy, insulin, anti-hypertensives, and medications for systemic and topical infections.

On Sept. 3, Cuba increased the offer to 1,586 doctors, ready for immediate deployment and prepared to stay as long as necessary to help wherever needed. A Cuban spokesperson said that as of today there has been no official response from the U.S. government.

Cuban disaster relief experience spans 45 years, mainly in hurricanes faced by the Caribbean island and in coping with disasters confronted by other developing countries.  Another nearly 25,000 Cuban health professionals provide longer-term healthcare services in 68 countries, under government-to-government agreements.

Cuba trains 10,500 medical students from 27 countries at its Latin American Medical School -- 65 of them from poor and minority communities in the U.S.

"What an irony that the first U.S. physician to graduate from the school this August is a young African American from New Orleans," said Diane Appelbaum, RN, NP, MS. "He just passed the U.S. medical boards and is eager to fulfill the commitment he made in exchange for his free education from Cuba to serve the very poverty-stricken areas now devastated."

Source: Medical Education Cooperation With Cuba


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