From Minnesota with solidarity: Humanitarian aid to Cuban hospitals

20150120 210357The official opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, and the Cuba embassy in Washington, D.C. in July, after 54 years without diplomatic relations marked a historical event heralding a new beginning in the process of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Many other issues will have to be resolved in the months ahead – among them ending the trade embargo – but both countries are committed to discussing them in a climate of mutual respect, equal footing and acceptance of their differences.

20150224 143816Although Cuba has been able to provide free universal health care to its population, an achievement unsurpassed in Latin America, the combined impact of the “Special Period” in the 1990s due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the 50-plus year old embargo by the U.S. has impacted the health care system in Cuba. As a consequence of this, Cuba has not been able to fully attend the needs for medical equipment and supplies, and medicines of hospitals and clinics. Despite this, Cuba has achieved an impressive record on preventive health care, such as lowering infant mortality, longer life expectancy and according to the World Health Organization, the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Due to the embargo, some medicines manufactured in the United States are not accessible to Cuba. No country can sell to Cuba if a product or merchandise, machinery or equipment containing more than 10 percent of North American components.

In the first part of 2015, concerned citizens Roberto Fonts and Franklin Curbelo from Minneapolis, discussed ways to effectively help Cuba’s hospitals and clinics to have the necessary medical equipment and supplies in order to meet the growing health care needs of the Cuban population.

After evaluation, the choice was made to invite Matter from Minnesota and Global Links from Pennsylvania – both non-profit organizations – to manage the donations and logistics associated with sending medical equipment and supplies to Cuba.

Matter, a St. Louis Park-based nonprofit with a mission to expand access to health and food around the world, is poised to bring repurposed medical equipment to Cuban hospitals. Matter has a 15 year history of shipping medical equipment and supplies to developing hospitals and clinics to 41 countries. This month, Matter is partnering with Pittsburg-based Global Links, a nonprofit with 20-plus years of experience in Cuba, to provide supplies and equipment to a medical school in Havana.

The first shipment from the United States to Cuba is scheduled for this month and will contain training and medical items, many of which will be sent to the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in Havana. It will include items such as an IV training arm (currently there is only one in the entire medical school), adult and infant CPR dolls, a heart model, a lung model, an anatomy mannequin, spirometers and lab microscopes.

Matter and the Hispanic community in the Twin Cities are raising awareness and resources for future shipments. Two containers with items such as hospital beds and laboratory equipment for hospitals in Santiago de Cuba are scheduled for September/October 2015.

A fundraising campaign has been launched to raise enough funds to defray the costs of medical equipment and supplies, and freight. On Aug. 29 an event will be held at Du Nord Craft Spirits, 2610 E. 32nd. St., Minneapolis, from 6 p.m. to 8, so potential contributors can learn more details about what Matter and Global Links are doing to help Cuba hospitals and clinics. For further information call (612) 824-6109 or (612) 363-8000.

September 1, 2015
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