HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government took a radical turn in its policy towards medical doctors who abandoned international healthcare missions and moved abroad, announcing on Friday it would allow them to return to their positions within the country’s national health system and grant them employment guarantees.
“The health professionals who, under the terms of the migratory reform, have left the country, be it because of financial, family related or professional reasons, including the victims of deceitful brain-drain practices, will be offered the opportunity to rejoin our national health system if they wish to do so, and shall be guaranteed a position with conditions similar to the ones they previously enjoyed,” an extensive communiqué from Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) published in Granma announced.
Change in Policy
The announcement stems from a significant change in the policy Cuba has applied to medical doctors and dentists considered “deserters,” who were barred from returning to the country for a period of at least seven years and from returning to the island’s medical institutions following the invalidation of their degrees.
MINSAP’s declaration reminded readers that Cuba has been forced to adopt migratory controls and regulations to counter talent theft by the US government since the first years of the revolutionary process, and that this government “has continued to follow its interest to destabilize Cuba through lotteries, selective immigration policies and the Cuban Adjustment Act.”
The note criticized the continued application of the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program (CMPPP), established in 2006 to offer health professionals who abandon their missions in third countries refuge in the United States. The program has been the object of complaints by Cuba during the talks that have been held since January of this year to re-establish diplomatic relations and normalize ties between the two countries.
“To achieve this, it relies on agents or activists in places where our medical doctors are working under government agreements, who pressure and offer benefits of every kind to those willing to desert and emigrate to the United States, lured by the promise of a better professional future which, in truth, only a small minority will enjoy,” the communiqué explained.
Stuck in Colombia
The new policy is being announced at a time when hundreds of Cuban health professionals find themselves stranded in Colombia after fleeing their missions in Venezuela and Brazil. Following a period in which the CMPPP ceased to be offered to Cuban doctors, protests from medical professionals and pressure from Cuban-American congress people have again set in motion the granting of regular visas for Cubans over past weeks.
Since the close of August and until this past Friday, the US State Department has granted over 170 visas to medical doctors who requested refugee status through the US embassy in Bogota.
The MINSAP note stresses that the country is willing to consider all possible channels to improve the living and work conditions of Cuban doctors.
“We’re working to provide greater access to information technologies, to allow doctors, among other things, to access the latest articles in different specialties, grant scholarships for study abroad and the learning of new techniques (through itinerant groups), encourage participation at national and international congresses and events so that professionals can divulge their scientific research and share experiences with their counterparts,” the communiqué announced.
In addition, Cuba’s sanitary authorities underscored that they will adopt the “measures needed” to ensure medical professionals can improve their skills and can give their best within the profession they chose.
The declaration reported that there are currently 85,000 medical doctors in the country and that the island has the best health professional per capita indicator in the world (7.7 doctors for every thousand inhabitants, or one doctor for every 130 people). The number has gone down to 5.4 with the 25,000 doctors currently working abroad (chiefly in Venezuela).
In total, more than 50,000 Cuban health professionals are working in 68 countries around the world.
The Cuban press, however, has recently alerted authorities about the shortage of specialists and family doctors in the country.
In 2014, the Empresa Comercializadora de Servicios Medicos de Cuba (“Cuban Medical Services Company”) expected to take in more than US $ 8.2 billion through the export of medical services to some 40 countries, making the sector the country’s main revenue source.