MEDICC Deplores President Trump’s Rollback on US Opening to Cuba: Unhealthy, Unreasonable, Unwise

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The Trump administration’s about-face on Cuba policy threatens the benefits of bilateral health cooperation for Americans, Cubans and people around the world.

There are no winners in a return to antiquated policies, but yes, the real possibility is that health—our own and globally—becomes just part of the ‘collateral damage’.

The Trump administration’s about-face on Cuba policy threatens the benefits of bilateral health cooperation for Americans, Cubans and people around the world. The June 16th Presidential Memorandum makes passing reference to “ensure engagement” to protect “public health and safety of the United States”. However, the directive’s harsh restrictions on travel, trade and investment risk freezing joint research on disease and bilateral accords to mitigate natural disasters, protect shared ecosystems, counter drug-trafficking and halt new epidemics.

While specifics are yet unclear, the stakes are high. MEDICC Board Vice Chair Arnold Perkins commented: “This policy turnaround is as unwise as it is unhealthy, especially since Cuba has promising treatments for lung and other cancers, and for reducing by 70% risk of amputation for diabetic-foot-ulcer patients, among others. Ordinary Americans and Cubans stand to lose if US companies and universities cannot fully partner with Cuba’s research centers on these and other innovations.”

MEDICC Executive Director Dr. C. William Keck called the policy also unreasonable, contradicting overwhelming support for better relations with Cuba found among Americans (including Republicans), Cuban-Americans and Cubans on the island. “This administration is turning its back on us, and also on lessons from a country whose free health care has produced outcomes similar and sometimes better than our own, with fewer disparities, despite economic hardships due in part to the US embargo,” he said. In this regard, Dr. Keck referred to MEDICC’s Community Partnerships for Health Equity (CPHE) in 12 US cities, where community leaders travel to Cuba to gain insights for improving health and health equity back home.

He also noted that full Cuban scholarships have already permitted over 200 low-income young Americans to study medicine in Havana. As a result of this Cuban investment—estimated at over $20 million—more than 90% of the already-practicing graduates are working in US underserved areas, a "program MEDICC is proud to support”.

By further undermining the Cuban economy, the presidential directive puts at risk the continuation of such scholarships, as well as Cuba’s global health cooperation with developing countries, where its first responders have risked their own lives to save others, whether facing the Ebola outbreak or the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.

MEDICC helped open the door to bilateral health collaboration with its 2016 white paper sent to President Obama. A Safer, Healthier Future Through U.S.-Cuba Cooperation contained several recommendations adopted in his ensuing executive orders...including those allowing Cuban cancer-fighting medicines to be tested in the USA.

It is imperative that such collaboration in health and science move ahead, despite obstacles presented by the policy shift: MEDICC is fully committed to this effort. “There are no winners in a return to antiquated policies, but yes, the real possibility is that health—our own and globally—becomes just part of the ‘collateral damage’. History has shown that engaging with Cuba is the only way forward,” stressed Mr. Perkins.

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Founded in 1997, MEDICC is a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California that has worked to promote US-Cuba health collaboration and highlight Cuba’s public health contributions to global health equity and universal health. MEDICC facilitates mutual learning opportunities in several ways: its documentary film ¡Salud!; the open-access, MEDLINE-indexed English journal, MEDICC Review, that publishes research by Cuban and other scholars from the Global South whose work addresses health equity; insightful trips to Cuba for US health policymakers, educators and practitioners; Community Partners for Health Equity, a national network of US communities whose leaders have been inspired to innovate for better health, thanks to their MEDICC-organized experiences in Cuba; and by serving as an institutional bridge-builder between US, Cuban and global health institutions and organizations. MEDICC also assists US students and graduates of Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine to return home to practice in provider-shortage areas, and supports US policies that facilitate greater health cooperation with Cuba for the benefit of people in both countries. To achieve our vision of health for all, MEDICC works with a global alliance of people who care about how others in the world live, learn, work, eat, play and receive health care.

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Murlean Tucker
MEDICC
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