Medical education: Inspired by Cuba, students hope to overhaul Pakistani health care

Pakistani students in Cuban medical schools discuss their aspirations, experiences.

Express September 03, 2011


Pakistan needs to focus on research in medicine and adopt preventive rather than curative measures in health care, said Pakistani students pursuing medical studies in Cuba.

A group of around 600 students recently returned home for vacations from Cuba, one of the leading countries in the field of medical education and research.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, two students, Wajahat Saeed and Muhammad Yousuf Raza, said Cuba’s medical practice is based on extensive research and the country focuses more on preventive measures rather than curative ones, helping to control the spread of disease.

“It is because of effective medical research that Cuba has a very low infant mortality rate, second to Canada in North America,” they said, adding that Pakistani needs to follow the country’s footsteps. Cuban medical professionals are keenly working on a cure for cancer too, said Saeed and Raza.

After the devastating earthquake in October 2005, the Cuban government had offered 1,000 medical scholarships to students from earthquake-affected areas. However, due to the small number of eligible students from these areas, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) also awarded these scholarships to students from other parts of the country.

The HEC only bears pocket expenses of €50 per month and one return travel ticket for each student during their entire course of study. The remaining expenses, including lodging and food, are borne by the Cuban government.

So far, 950 students have been sent to Cuba in two groups.  In 2006, 300 students went to the country, followed by another 650 students in 2008. The first group of students will graduate in 2013.

“All medical facilities are available free of cost in Cuba and there is no concept of doctors having private practices,” said Raza, who wishes to see such a system in Pakistan. The provision of equal opportunities has also helped reduce materialism in society, he added.

Students from more than 50 countries from regions like Latin America, Africa and the Middle East are pursuing medical studies in the country, they said.

The students reiterated that Cuba has renowned doctors who are closely involved with their patients without indulging in money minting in private clinics and their medical ethics are highly appreciable.

The students said that although the coursework is similar to that in Pakistan, students in Cuba are encouraged to interact with patients two years into their studies.

The students also praised the Cuban government for facilities provided to Muslim students. They said they have complete freedom to freely practice their religion and mosques have been made for them on  campus. They added that the Cuban government specially imports ‘Halal’ meat for the Pakistani students from Brazil and Canada.

Pakistani students are among the top tier in Cuban colleges and they take significant interest in research, Raza and Saaed said. They promised to serve the nation, irrespective of material benefits, as is done by their teachers in Cuba.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2011.

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