Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Volunteer doctors from Cuba tend sick children in Haiti

Cuban doctor Estrella Torres treats a Haitian boy suffering from tuberculosis at a hospital in Cange, August 9.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"It hurts me to see children die before they even had a chance to live," says Estrella Torres, one of 600 Cuban doctors who work in Haiti, where life expectancy is only 52 years.

Haiti, with a population of just eight million people, is the poorest country in western hemisphere.

Its sanitation system is also the weakest in the Caribbean basin, and the central region of Haiti where Torres works is the most affected by public health problems.

Eighteen Cuban doctors work in this area.

In the pediatric clinic of the small community of Cange, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, this 55-year-old pediatrician sees dozens of sick children everyday, brought by parents who are sometimes as sick as the babies.

Children's cries tear the heavy atmosphere.

Many Haitians are unable to afford the costly services of Haitian doctors. Wait time to be seen by one of the Cuban doctors can be hours.

"I take care of children who suffer from tuberculosis, AIDS or malnutrition," explains Torres.

"There is a lot of poverty and hunger here," she explains. "The children do not receive enough milk and often they die early."

Forty-two percent of Haitian children under the age of five suffer from moderate to serious stunted growth.

About 28 percent of deaths among children under five are caused by malnutrition and diarrhea, according to a UN report.

"In Cuba this problem does not exist," says Torres. "This problem was resolved in the 1970s."

She is glad the country now has a food distribution program launched by the World Food Program.

"My mission is a big life lesson," points out Torres, a native of Olguin province located east of Havana.

During her stay in Haiti, she worked with her Haitian colleagues.

"We exchanged professional information and work techniques," she says. "I have the impression that our presence here has helped improve the level of health care in the country."

In return, she has learned to speak Creole, the language used by the majority of Haitians, which has helped her better integrate in the community and fulfill her mission.

Reaching now the end of her stay in Haiti, she is looking forward to returning to Cuba where she will see her own children and her grandson.

But she hopes that situation for Haitian children will improve one day.

She dreams of taking a vacation and going to the beach, but is anxious to find out if another Cuban doctor will come to replace her.

Cuba also receives hundreds of Haitian students, who come to the island to study medicine and agriculture. — AFP

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