Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Primary Health Care in the U.S. and Partnership With the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) - An Interview with MEDICC

This week, President Obama is hosting a “health care summit” with leaders of the Republican Party in order to facilitate passage of a national health care plan. The President's proposals are basically a copy of the Senate health reform bill recently passed. That bill would require all Americans to purchase a health insurance policy, with the Federal Government providing subsidies for people with low incomes to purchase health insurance. However, the bill would do nothing to rein in health care costs arising from explosive growth of health insurance fees, as well as excessive growth in pharmaceutical and medical technology costs. This is not surprising, as the fundamental problem with health care in the U.S. is that it is a for-profit “industry,” and the leaders of this industry seek continual profit growth. These leaders are controlling the present health care “debate” in this country.

However, there are resources for implementing alternative models of health care for communities in the U.S. that are interested in setting up their own systems of effective, truly affordable care. One such resource is the medical outreach program of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba. ELAM is a renowned medical school that produces top-notch doctors skilled in disaster medicine and promotion of community health with limited resources. (In fact, Cuba itself has become a renowned source of medical expertise.) ELAM has an outreach program in which students from disadvantaged countries as well as disadvantaged communities in the U.S. are invited to study medicine at the ELAM campus in Cuba, free of charge. Afterward, these students become board-certified primary care physicians. All that is asked of them in return is that they make a commitment to return to their communities to provide low-cost, high-quality health care to their fellow citizens.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Rachel True, MPH, Academic Program Director for the Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), a non-profit organization that facilitates Cuba's medical outreach to other countries. We discussed the work of ELAM, the unique competencies and emphasis of Cuban medicine and the doctors trained at ELAM, and lessons that could be applied to the United States. We also talked about how disadvantaged communities in the United States could sponsor their own young people to become students at ELAM, in order to build a network of primary health care providers in American communities. This is very important for the times we are now facing, in which the profit-driven U.S. model of health care (and education of health care professionals) is becoming ever more unsustainable. ELAM offers an exceptional education free of charge, and produces doctors who can deliver effective health care solutions at low cost.

I was able to save an audio file of my interview, which can be found at http://www.archive.org/details/InterviewWithRachelTrueOfMedicc. It should be accessible to computers running on either Windows or Linux operating systems. I will also be creating a transcript of the interview for a future blog post. And I am planning on interviewing a student who is currently enrolled at ELAM. God willing, I hope to post that interview in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

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