Doctors Trained in Cuba Have no Options in Bolivia

Hundreds of Bolivian high school graduates, generally from poorer areas, left the country to study medicine in Cuba. Over 400 have returned and cannot find jobs.

Eleven years ago a group of 80 Bolivian high school graduates went to Havannah. They were the first of a series of awardees who received scholarships to study at the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM), which was founded in 1999. As of 2005, 411 have graduated as doctors and, according to official data, to date there are 5008 scholarship recipients from Bolivia studying at the ELAM. Over a decade later, the objectives for which this school of medicine was built are far from being accomplished. The statement made by Fidel Castro himself, who said that the new doctors "would return to their country to serve their people" has not been fulfilled. Most of the graduates are jobless and many have left to foreign countries in search of work.

"I'm learning Portuguese because if I can't find anything here, I'll have to leave," stated one of the doctors who prefers not to reveal his name. He is one of the graduates trained in ophthalmology and, along with his colleagues, he shares his frustration at returning to a health care system that is saturated. An additional burden is the fact that he is one of a new group of graduates from Cuba. The former scholarship recipients indicated that people continually relate them with the (Bolivian) government because the government, on more than one opportunity, has announced its satisfaction with the "solidary work done by the Bolivian doctors who studied in Cuba". This flattery has become of the main obstacles to finding a job.

"When we returned in 2005 some of us worked as a part of the Cuban brigade and we helped choose the new scholarship recipients who were to be sent to Cuba; they paid us $200 a month," indicates Juan Carlos Flores, one of the doctors. He states that some of them were approached to specialize in ophthalmology at the Operación Milagro clinic installed by the Cuban government in Bolivia to attend to patients with cataracts and pterygium. Thus, Flores studies for two additional years although he didn't return to the island to complete the specialty. Today, the doctors have no connection to the Operación Milagro clinic. "They closed their doors to us, even though there was an agreement that indicated that after the Bolivian doctors completed their training they would take over those clinics in the country," explained another unemployed doctor.

According to the Ministry of Health, 50 former scholarship recipients have been hired as permanent personnel at the Moto Méndez Mission, which registered people with physical disabilities in the country. This mission receives support from the Cubans and Venezuelans. There are also 20 doctors supporting the Juana Azurduy de Padilla bonus for new mothers. Ministry sources explain that there is no commitment from the Government to generate work for the scholarship recipients because Medicine is a free profession.

Those who are still studying remain firm about getting a profession despite being far from home and adjusting to a system that is rife with material shortages and the lack of personal freedom. "It can't be said that we go hungry, but we do lead a hard life. What is important is that we study and we wouldn't have been able to do that in Bolivia" assures one former scholarship recipient.

One group of mothers, who also prefer not to identify themselves for fear it will cause problems for the students in Cuba, explain that they must send their children at least $100 per month. They are also allowed to send one package per month, weighing up to 2 kilograms, to Cuba. They send soap, toothpaste, maxi pads and medicine. "My daughter has asthma and (in Cuba) they don't have the medicines she needs," said one father. Until a short time ago, they were allowed to send packages of up to 20 kilograms but this has been restricted because some of the students began to sell the items they received, explain the mothers.

Over the past eleven years the young people have also had to endure at least ten hurricanes that have crossed over the island. Last year there was no rice or water to drink due to the damage caused by the cyclones. Because of this crisis many of the students had to return to Bolivia to continue studying under the Cuban doctors who are distributed throughout rural communities. The Embassy of Cuba confirmed that of the 5008 scholarship recipients, 801 are studying in this manner, in the fourth year of medicine, and explained that this was an academic decision, made to ensure the students return to work within the reality of their own country.

Danilo Sánchez, an advisory minister at the Cuban Embassy, does not deny that there is also a certain percentage of desertion for various reasons, but states it is minimal. The most dramatic example of a career cut short is that of 22-year old Beatriz Porco, a student from Oruro, who died, according to the Cuban Government, due to a cerebral-vascular illness on 28 March 2008.

Her family has horrified to learn her body had arrived without any organs. An investigation was initiated and to date has been deadlocked by the Public Ministry. At the time, the Cuban Embassy had declared that it had complied with international procedures for the transfer of cadavers, but the Porco family still suffers the loss of their daughter and lives tormented because, according to their Aymara beliefs, their daughter's soul will not rest in peace as her body was buried incomplete...

About 8000 young doctors are jobless in Bolivia

The President of the Bolivian School of Medicine, Walderedo Gutiérrez, reports that there are over 5000 young doctors who are unemployed and graduates of Bolivian universities, while even more are returning from other countries, especially Cuba and Venezuela.

Gutiérrez sustains that, after calculating, there are easily at least 8000 unemployed doctors in the country and there are more each year as universities continue to graduate more into the market, even though no analysis of the reality of the labor market has been done.

His opinion coincides with that of Erwin Saucedo, Director of the Departmental Health Service (SEDES), who estimates that just in Santa Cruz there are about 3000 unemployed doctors who are working as taxi drivers, office assistants, or in other types of jobs to survive...

Date: 27 September 2010

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Comments for Doctors Trained in Cuba Have no Options in Bolivia

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Oct 02, 2010
by: Dr B

Hi Bella, You know me. Lots of things p*ss me off about Bolivia and this is another. Seriously? 8000 unemployed doctors? In a country that's starving for them? And also for good training for those that exist?

I'm as left-wing as the next guy but I'm losing my faith in socialism that works. However well meaning, a government without adequate management skills will not solve Bolivia's problems despite all their rhetoric.

What are your thoughts on how to address this stuff? There must be a way of working from the bottom up?

Un abrazo

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