A Christmas story from Canada and Cuba

Cubans unload an anaesthesia machine from Canada

Cubans unload an anaesthesia machine from Canada

MEMO (Medical Equipment Mobilization Opportunity) http://www.memoministry.org/ is a charity based in Thunder Bay, Ontario which collects and ships redundant medical equipment and supplies no longer needed by Canadian hospitals to clinics in Cuba, El Salvador and Liberia. This blogger interviewed the charity’s director, Dr. Jerome Harvey, for my book, Cuban Health Care: Utopian Dreams, Fragile Future and one of the better quotes he gave me was that “the Cuban health care system is like a well-trained army with no weapons and no ammunition.”

The charity pays the shipping costs, which often include overland transport over Canada’s vast territory before the medical equipment can be packed into a shipping container and sent overseas. Run entirely by volunteers, MEMO receives shipping funds from private donors but has no other financial backing. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a recent letter from Dr. Harvey about a serendipitous discovery:

“A year ago a little baby girl was born in Cuba.

Due to complications, she required a tracheostomy and ventilator.

She is a year old now, still needs the ventilator, but can go home with her parents who are doctors if they can obtain a ventilator.

On $60 a month salary her parents could never afford to buy a ventilator if one was even available.

It would have to be a special ventilator for an infant and run on electricity using room air, as oxygen would be impossible expensive.

Meanwhile, last year in Watson Lake, Yukon the little 50-bed worn out hospital was replaced with a brand new one.

Much of the hospital’s equipment was left behind being replaced with new equipment.

Now go back to June 2014.

Educational consultants with the EFCCM [Evangelical Free Church of Canada Ministries] John and Naomi Hall met me at Shalom Clinic in El Salvador.

They were teaching teachers at the Amilat Christian School and I was visiting to see how MEMO projects were going in El Salvador

John and Naomi just happen to live in Watson Lake, Yukon!

Fast forward to spring 2015. John and Naomi learn of all the used by still useful hospital equipment to be disposed of from the closed Watson Lake Hospital.

They contact me with a long list of medical equipment almost all of which would be extremely useful in overseas hospitals.

They get permission from the Yukon Health Authority to donate it to MEMO.

The problem: Trucking companies would charge $6000 to bring it to Thunder Bay.

Guess what?  The pastor of the EFCCM church in Watson Lake grew up in North Western Ontario and volunteered to drive his flat bed truck with all the equipment on it  to Thunder Bay while he visited his relatives. The  Halls paid for the cost of the diesel fuel.

The stretchers, delivery table, monitors and boxes and boxes of stuff arrived in October.

We have slowly been working at unpacking and checking all kinds of really useful medical equipment over the last three months.

Now we go to the first week of this November.

Martha Delgado goes to Cuba wit the team holding workshops on senior care in Havana and Santa Clara.

While there she meets Dr. Montiel Yumar who tells her about the baby needing a ventilator.

Back in Canada Martha asks me if MEMO could find a ventilator.

I tell her we don’t have one, but who knows.

The next week I am going through boxes from the Yukon.

You guessed it! There was a ventilator suitable for a child weighing more than 22 lbs. Runs on electricity 110V using room air with battery back p for power failures up to 10 hours long.

As well the Halls had included three brand-new breathing tubes to connect the machine to the baby’s tracheostomy tube.

It was compact weighing about 8 pounds.

The only thing it needed was a new back up battery which is now on order from “Amazon.”

We are looking for a tourist to take it to Cuba for us.”



My fellow bloggers

It’s a post that’s gone viral and was translated into Spanish and reposted on Chilean news sites. Nathan Lustig, an American who has lived and worked in Santiago for several years, takes aim at Chile’s class prejudices and urges Chileans to spend time abroad in order to correct these attitudes. Smart, resourceful Chileans who find their ambitions thwarted at home because of their darker skin and modest backgrounds might enjoy a boost to their careers and self-esteem in other countries, while those with privileged upbringings may get a much-needed reality check. (Lustig also urges Americans to spend time abroad in order to broaden their own perspectives.) http://www.nathanlustig.com/2015/11/26/the-best-thing-a-chilean-can-do-is-to-leave-chile/

On the subject of inequality, Helen Cordery has an interesting piece on conditions in a Chilean state school on her blog Querida Recoleta: https://queridarecoleta.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/state-schools-the-truth/

Non, je ne regrette rien

It happens with depressing regularity in Chile: seemingly out of nowhere, a witness comes forth to give an account of a horrific crime from the Pinochet regime. This week it was a former conscript, Guillermo Reyes Rammsy, who called a popular talk show to say he was considering suicide and went on to describe his involvement in 18 executions following the 1973 military coup

“We shot them in the head and then blew up the bodies with dynamite, there was nothing left, not even their shadow,” he said. Though he did not give his name, or that of any of those killed, Chilean police quickly tracked Reyes Rammsy down and charged him with the murders of two members of the country’s Socialist Party. The Guardian has this story:


Meanwhile, there has been some acknowledgement of the military regime’s human rights abuses from an unexpected source: Augusto Pinochet Molina, the late dictator’s grandson. The former army captain came to public attention nine years ago when he gave a speech at his grandfather’s funeral, praising the elder Pinochet’s “war against the Marxists” and saying that he had produced a stable and prosperous country. The Chilean army responded by forcing Pinochet Molina to retire, along with another general who had given a speech praising the dictator.

But this past week Pinochet Molina told Chile’s La Tercera newspaper that in fact there had been some crimes committed under his grandfather’s rule.

“There were serious human rights violations during the military government, which in some cases were really criminal situations, like the assassination of Tucapel Jimenez,” he said, referring to the 1982 murder of the president of Chile’s public employees’ union. But Pinochet Molina maintained that there was a “dirty war against insurgents” and that “millions of people in Chile and all over the world have enormous affection” for his grandfather.


A Chile weekend round up

Most of the attention toward Latin America in the next few days will be on Venezuela’s legislative assembly election, and whether the voting will be free and fair. But Chile continues to generate news, and here are some recent dispatches:

Foreign Affairs has an article on Michelle Bachelet’s embattled administration, noting that she won the election with a healthy 62 percent of the vote, but that her approval rating has now plummeted in wake of a corruption scandal involving her son and the economic pinch caused by low prices for copper, Chile’s chief export:

“According to the public opinion institute GFK Adimark Chile, Bachelet’s approval rate reached a historic low of 24 percent in August 2015. That month, her center–left coalition government had an approval rating of a mere 16 percent. The only group that fared worse was the center–right opposition Alianza, with 15 percent. The fact that Chile’s two leading political factions, which currently dominate national politics, have a combined approval rating of only 31 percent signals a deep crisis within the political class.” https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/chile/2015-12-02/bachelets-last-stand

One of those scandals involved a scheme by Chile’s largest paper manufacturer and a smaller producer to fix the price of…toilet paper.  The Economist reports that a consumer’s group estimates that the two firms bilked Chilean customers of around $500 million over a ten-year period: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21679517-new-breed-competition-regulator-takes-cartels-toilet-paper-tangle

Reuters reports that Argentina’s newly elected president, Mauricio Macri, is seeking to build new trade links with Chile http://www.reuters.com/article/chile-argentina-idUSL8N13U01720151205#mMxPrzT1EF42s3KR.97

And the San Francisco Chronicle news site, SFGate has this piece on Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman’s new documentary, The Pearl Button, about the role water has played in the country’s history. http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Chile-s-tragic-history-through-a-film-poet-s-6670912.php