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.”



This blogger’s new book


It’s been a long, hard project over the past few years, with research and travel expenses coming out of our own pockets, difficulty accessing credible sources and sifting through vast mounds of hyperbole and disinformation.  But I think my co author, Steven Ullmann, and I have made a  contribution to the knowledge bank: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739176030

Steve is the director of the University of Miami’s Center for Health Sector Management and Policy ( http://www.bus.miami.edu/faculty-and-research/faculty-directory/management/ullmann/ ). Full disclosure here:  we are step cousins and although neither of us has Cuban heritage, there is an indirect family link to Cuba, via my late stepfather, who was a first cousin of Steve’s father. Here is a link to an earlier post I did on this subject: https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/looking-for-harris-the-cuban-connection/

Cancer care in Cuba

CIMEQ, the Havana hospital where Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is undergoing cancer treatment.

CIMEQ, the Havana hospital where Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is undergoing cancer treatment.

The Centro de Investigaciones Médico Quirúrgicas, CIMEQ (http://www.cimeq.org), the Cuban hospital treating  Hugo Chavez, is the subject of articles by Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/14/us-cuba-chavez-hospital-idUSBRE90D16920130114 and the Associated Press http://news.yahoo.com/chavez-reportedly-exclusive-cuba-hospital-195249250.html and both news agencies observe there is little outward sign of the Venezuelan leader’s presence there. The hospital has a wing for foreigners and VIPs and its website (http://www.cimeq.org/es) lists 16 medical services, including 24 different cosmetic  surgical procedures.

Another option offered to paying cancer patients is a regime of alternative treatments by the La Coronacion travel agency in Havana. Billed as “the first Touristic Package designed to provide homeopathic natural oncological treatment in Cuba,” the agency offers 7, 15 and 21-day stays that include accommodation at the Hotel Club Acuario, transfers, a medical consultation and a combination of four nutritional and homeopathic remedies http://cuba-yes.com/en/health/cancer-medical-package.php.

One of these products is Vidatox 30CH, a medication derived from scorpion venom produced by the Cuban state biotechnology company Labiofam.  According to Labiofam’s web site (http://www.labiofamcuba.com), “the venom  from the Cuban scorpion Rhopalurus junceus has been shown to have antitumoral and antimetastatic activity on solid tumors” and “represents a potential therapeutic alternative for the treatment of neoplastic disease in humans.”