After the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro made health and education a priority. In 1959 he said “I invite everyone who has the vocation to study medicine.” Last year, as well as the 4,800 students from 70 other countries who trained on full scholarships from the Cuban government, 5,600 native Cuban doctors graduated. Britain produces around 8,000 new doctors every year. The population of Cuba is one sixth of ours, so the equivalent figure in Britain would be over 33,000.
What do they do with them all? Many work abroad; they are Cuba’s diplomatic weapon.
In 1960 Castro sent 56 health workers to Algeria on a 14 month assignment. Since then the number of Cuban doctors working overseas has multiplied, and an increasing number of medical students qualify each year to feed the demand. Currently there are around 20,000 Cuban doctors working overseas on long-term projects in 100 countries from Venezuela to Vanuatu. Additionally, Cuba sends teams to every natural disaster. Well, nearly every natural disaster: President Bush declined Castro’s offer of help after Hurricane Katrina.