I am writing from Havana where I am being hosted, as Green foreign affairs spokesperson, by the Cuban Parliament.
One topic of my meetings has been Cuba’s contribution to improving the health systems of Pacific Island nations. Cuba has doctors – as part of its aid programme – in Nauru, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Solomons and the Samoa – not to mention a big programme in Timor Leste. It has also put 200 students from the South Pacific into six year doctor’s courses in its international medical schools. I visited the Latin American School of Medicine just west of Havana and talked to Marcia and Mark from the Solomons and Asil from Fiji, who were pleased with what they had learnt, after a bit of a trial coming to grips with Spanish. The Pacific students had just had their turn putting on a cultural night, and said their version of a haka went over a treat.
Cuba wants to coodinate its Pacific medical programme with the New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Island Forum and I said it was something the Greens could help with.
Another area we might be able to help with is cancer research. I talked to Dr Iznaga Escobar at the Centre for Molecular Immunology. Cuba has a huge programme to develop vaccines to stabilise breast and other cancers. Being a small country they need bigger populations for their tests. Canada, India and Brazil are among the countries that help but not yet, it appears, New Zealand. Cuba has 382 medical patents, and the export of vaccines, etc. is their second biggest export, next to nickel.
Also part of their aid programme is the application of advanced technology to deal with cataracts and other eye diseases. They have performed hundreds of thousands of operations around the world. Ironically, one satisfied customer is an elderly Bolivian, who in his younger days was the executioner of Che Guevara.