Day 22, 2019

Henry Reeve Medical Brigade

Author: Melissa Barber

Happy Twenty Second Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today I send much love to and give thanks for the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade.  Many lives have been saved and communities completely restored because these medical angels have altruistically given their time and have devoted their lives to giving the gift of health and well being to the poor and disaster devastated communities.

Several days ago,  I read an article about the US’ latest attack on Cuba. (When imperialism targets Cuban doctors, it targets human solidarity). The US has this obsession with trying to crush the spirit of this beautiful island 90 miles from its shore and you would think after 60 plus years of not succeeding they would give it up and let Cuba live and govern its own sovereign nation how it deems fit. (I guess that’s my wishful thinking!) This time the US has decided to intervene in Cuba’s medical collaborations throughout the world. Unfortunately, this tactic, ultimately, really oppresses the poor and medically underserved people of the world that are being serviced as much as it does the government of Cuba (and it does effects Cuba’s finances and economy badly).  The latest attack has involved pressuring governments like Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia to force out (basically exile) Cuban doctors, (medical missionaries) who were working in the most remote areas of those countries and with the poorest of the poor to give them the free gift of (universal) healthcare and wellness for possibly the first time in their lives. Now that the Cuban doctors have been removed, these governments have not made any moves to replace these doctors in the area/communities in which the Cuban doctors were serving. (You guessed it! Those communities of poor people no longer have doctors and probably have no access to medical care for miles.)

In past months, I have heard the onslaught of lies that have been told about the Cuban doctors in these countries and the claims of their “incompetence” or about the Cuban doctor’s “enslavement” or “indentured servitude,” which is farthest from the truth.  The lies are not only pissing me off and sparking a “righteous” anger, I’m wondering where are the voices of the world that have benefited from services provided by these medical revolutionaries. To date, Cuban doctors have served in over 164 countries through its medical collaborations. Through Operation Miracle (Operación Milagro), Cuban surgeons have performed over 2.9 million surgeries to restore the sight of patients in 34 different countries throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.  From 1999-2017, Cuban doctors in their medical collaborations in other countries have attended to 1,667,248, 707 medical cases; 510,789,672 were home visits; 234,462,192 were pediatric cases; 12,188,554 surgical operations were performed; 3,188,554 babies were delivered; 14,001,911 vaccines were given; 6,296,489 lives were saved.  (I don’t know about you but there is nothing about these numbers that suggest incompetence to me.) I think what is most shocking to me is that I don’t hear an outcry from the almost 40,000 doctors (some from these same countries) who have been medically trained FOR FREE in Cuba via The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) rising up to check and shut down all of these lies (The gangsta in me is wanting to surface!).  From 1966 to 2017, Cuba has medically trained 33,974 doctors from 135 different countries; 84% of these doctors have graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) since 2005. [5,184 Bolivians, 2093 Ecuadorians, 1214 Brazilians and 185 US citizens] Cuba has established seven medical schools outside of Cuba, mainly in Venezuela and Angola, and has been responsible for the medical training of these doctors. They have matriculated over 47,000 students.  

The US has allocated millions of dollars in its budget to execute their plans to oppress this small island, once again, with the intentions to destroy Cuba’s economic stability. But I’m really shaking my head at the slander–“incompetent doctors” and “modern slavery”. Talking about Cuba and the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade is like talking about my mama or messing with my family, for which the other someone is sure to get “whupped.” It’s that spoken code that those outside the unit better” keep their mouth off of the unit!” That is an open assault to my crew and the Brother/Sister Hood of Batas Blancas [White “Medical” Coats], the Cuban and Cuban trained Medical Missionaries/Revolutionaries, who have been trained well and have pledged their lives to serving the poor and their communities (anywhere in the world), giving them access to health as a right.  We are Fidel’s babies, Medicos de Ciencia y Conciencia (Doctors of Science and Conscience), and have been trained by the best to work in any conditions (sometimes the worst), still producing the best outcomes. 

In every natural disaster, from Hurricanes to Mudslides to Earthquakes to the Ebola Crisis, our medical brigade, the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, is usually the first on the ground (with little to no media presence announcing us), providing comprehensive medical and surgical services to the victims of the disaster with an aim to preserve life as best possible. 

“How do you know”, you ask? Because I am one of those medical revolutionaries who proudly stood up (and will still stand up) to help my brothers and sisters when one of those earthquakes struck.  I was on the ground working along side my Cuban medical colleagues. As a team we daily served over 500 patients, who came from hours away to get free medical attention. (The patients started lining up at 3:30 am in the morning waiting for us to open the doors to our makeshift clinic at 7:30 am.) During our on call hours, we usually facilitated at least 7-10 births per night and the pregnant women would specifically come to our clinic instead of their local medical clinic. I was there to receive several mothers who, after walking for days to get to our clinic, were carrying their severely dehydrated, almost dead children to get them medical attention.  Some got to us in the nick of time and their severely dehydrated children were restored to complete health, while others weren’t as blessed and arrived way too late.  Since there was a lost of so many mother’s lives in that earthquake, in addition to providing medical attention to families, we often met needs, providing milk and formula for newborns. We fought for every one of our patients and to save every life that walked through our doors in bad shape. 

So, incompetent is not an adjective that you can ascribe to my brigade (How dare you!)When the medical team rotated to the public health portion of our work, each of us did home and community visits that centered around educating the community on prevention, we set up a vaccination program for the rural communities we were visiting, we visited the tent cities to see if anyone needed medical attention in them. Our team of exterminators fumigated communities to stop the spread of mosquitoes. (And for all of you that claimed the neurological symptoms and the sonic attack experienced by the US people in the Cuban embassy were because of fumigation, how do you explain that there were over 40,000 students exposed to seven years worth of daily fumigation and never had an issue? You may want to make up another lie that has a better foundation on which to stand.)
We wasted no resources and worked efficiently all the time. Again, no incompetent doctors or health professionals among our ranks! Our brigade was well taken care of and provided for by the Cuban government. The missions allowed the doctors to provide for themselves and their families back home very well. All of our supplies came from Cuba and not the host country. So, I’m not sure where the idea or term of “modern slavery” is coming from either. In the US we have so many programs that are designed as loan forgiveness programs (ie. National Service Corp, Americorp). When the participants are sent to underserved regions to work as pay back for funding given or to erase debt, are we calling them indentured servants? Do we consider them as being enslaved and under a system of modern slavery/trafficking? So why are Cuban doctors who are (1) voluntarily going on medical missions to other countries, (2) working for and being paid by the Cuban government who hired them for the service, (3) and who have received free education and rations all of their lives, considered slaves and indentured servants on these missions? Can you explain the logic to me? As I said previously, the Cuban doctors are paid and taken care of completely by their government on these missions. (Or is this another case of one of those US double standards?)

With all of that factual information, it’s easy to see how and why Cuba’s medical collaborations are so powerful and important to the world. Cuba serves as a threat to the US because the world is seeing what could be done with sheer political will—free universal healthcare and education as a right can be implemented in every nation.  The world is embracing solidarity with Cuba and democratic socialism. All the myths, lies, hidden agendas of our country are being exposed. Cuba’s revolutionary movement is a movement for the poor to get behind and declare that it has had enough of being exploited, given scraps of money and education and told to survive while the rich and bullies get away with creating subpar conditions on our earth. If the poor rising up and standing in their power is definitely a threat to the empower which they have declared must be shut down and have made moves to do so. But stay tuned… us poor folk are going to kick fighting for better and until the walls of Jericho crumble.

Every day, I’m honored that I have earned my badge, my Bata Blanca (white coat), which means the world to me. I am proud to have been one of the seven (first) inductees of the ELAM Contingent of the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade. And I will always, in solidarity with Cuba, stand among and support the contingent of medical doctors of science and conscience (revolutionaries) that aim to serve and provide universal free health care to my community and those communities around the world. I salute you Cuba! (Viva Cuba!) I salute you the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade! (Viva la Brigada Medica de Henry Reeve!) Keep showing the world your light. 

Love Ya,

Have A Wonderful Day of Thanks!
 Melissa Barber

Published by: Dream Without Borders

Artist| Scientist| Creative Entrepreneur| Activist: working at intersections of arts, health, healing, and activism, my practice focuses on the performance and performative articulations of vulnerable bodies, exploring and examining expressions of identity and belonging. I hold particular interest in the lives and aspirations of the African Diaspora/Black Atlantic in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Categories Melissa's 2019, Melissa's Thanks, Notes From The People