Cuba pitches $690m Haiti healthcare plan at summit

In an indirect appeal for participation by other nations, Vice President Esteban Lazo at a donors’ summit in the Dominican Republic June 2 highlighted a $690 million Cuban-Venezuelan plan to rebuild Haiti’s healthcare system.

The plan was approved by a meeting of the ALBA trade and integration agreement in Caracas in May, but the bulk of the funding comes from Venezuela, according to Lazo. Brazil, the only non-ALBA nation to participate in the project, committed $80 million in funding.

The summit gathered commitments for a total of $7.815 billion for Haiti, of which Venezuela contributes $2.65 billion.

Bill Clinton, UN Special Emissary to Haiti and former U.S. president, surprised observers during the summit, saying that “it’s possible Haiti is the only issue where Venezuela, Cuba and the United States are in complete agreement,” according to the summit’s official Web site.

The Cuban medical presence in Haiti, ongoing for 12 years, has been crucial for the poorest Caribbean country, both in normal times and since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

“What unites us here is not politics, it’s a human drama,” Lazo said in an emotional appeal to donors at the conference. “We can’t forget that Haiti was the first country that made a revolution in the American continent. Now it finds itself in this condition for diverse circumstances, worsened by this disaster that killed more than 200,000 people and caused an enormous number of injuries, in addition to incalculable material losses.”

The “World Summit for the Future of Haiti: Solidarity beyond the Crisis” at Punta Cana sought long-term commitments for Haiti’s “refounding.” The event was attended by 30 heads of state, officials of 35 international organizations, and Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank.

The “Program for the Reconstruction and Strengthening of the National Health System in Haiti” is already underway. It was designed by the Haitian government with the help of Cuba, to ensure broad health coverage, especially for low-income people.

Under a four-year agreement between Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela, Cuba will build and equip 101 primary care centers in Haiti that will attend up to 2.8 million patients a year. To treat earthquake survivors with multiple injuries, Cuba will also build up 30 rehabilitation wards for up to 520,000 patients a year, as well as three electro-medicine centers, one orthopedic prosthesis lab, and a comprehensive hygiene and epidemiology program. Cuba already set up 30 secondary-care community hospitals throughout Haiti for 2.15 million patients and 54,000 surgeries. In addition, the program includes creation of a tertiary-care specialties hospital, for which Cuba expects contributions of other countries.

At a previous summit in March, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described the program as a bargain, at $170 million a year during the first four years.

“The medical program that we are proposing will benefit 75 percent of the population most in need, at a minimum cost,” Rodríguez said during the donor conference in New York. “We invite all governments without exception to contribute to this noble effort.”

During the March 31 donors conference in New York, the pledges totaled $5.3 billion for the next two years and $9.9 billion for the next three years and beyond. Except for Brazil, no country has made a public commitment to the Cuban-run healthcare plan.

The United Nations will open a coordinating office in Port-au-Prince June 7, which will channel funds to Haiti. The office will be led by Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

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