Written by Novak, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Cuba: Advances in Healthcare, Summer 2019
After the excitement of our “vacation” weekend out in the countryside, the return to Havana serves as a reminder that we have passed the halfway mark of our trip. The timers are now counting down rather than up. Come Monday, we were right back in the swing of city life. After our usual morning Spanish class, we were quickly whisked away on two visits. We first went to La Universidad de Ciencias Médicas Girón, a medical university in Havana. We enjoyed an engaging conversation with a doctor there who tried to explain all the various years of schooling a Cuban doctor hopeful must go through – different in structure to the U.S., but similar in its exhaustive duration.
We weren’t able to tour the campus due to renovations, but the beauty and craftsmanship in the architecture was evident nonetheless. We then visited the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People, where we discussed the Cuban perspective of U.S.–Cuba relations. A particular sentiment that the Cuban people stand firmly by is that the issues between our governments are strictly between our governments. The Cuban people consider the American people to be friends. Following that experience, we enjoyed an Italian-style lunch at a lovely restaurant and got ready for an afternoon filled with studying and project work. As the sun set, we went out to enjoy the beautiful city by night and grab a quick bite of dessert after a long day.
Tuesday brought along another day of academics. Notably, we had the opportunity to visit the Pando Ferrer Ophthalmology Hospital, where we were shown around by two doctors at the facility. We talked about Operation Milagro, a wildly successful inter-governmental collaboration that originated with Cuba and Venezuela. Prompted by the realization that many lower-income people in Venezuela were suffering from incapacitating eye problems that could be fixed in surgeries less than 5 minutes long, Cuba and Venezuela launched a program to start offering free eye consultations and surgeries to anyone who couldn’t afford it.
This program has accomplished more than any other ophthalmology-focused program and has now spread to 34 countries, changing the lives of hundreds of thousands. In addition, Operation Milagro allowed Cuba’s ophthalmology program to become incredibly well-developed, with many professionals in and out of the country, as well as many international collaborations and new technology. As we walked through the hospital, we encountered frequent short-term power outages – an unexpected experience for us, but seemingly commonplace for the doctors showing us around.
In the end, it served as just another glimpse for us into the duality of the Cuban experience: impressive accomplishments and even more impressive professionals accustomed to circumstances we don’t have to deal with in the US.