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Tim Cole

Former British Ambassador to Cuba

Part of UK in Cuba

13th August 2013 Havana, Cuba

From Honiara to Havana for health reasons

I met the Ambassador of the Solomon Islands a few weeks ago. The Solomons (Honiara is the capital) are in the Pacific Ocean over 13,000 km from Cuba and they only have a few embassies around the world so you might wonder why they have recently opened one in Havana. The Ambassador, Simeon Bouro, explained to me that Cuban support is important for the Solomons’ health service –  there are more than 90 Solomon Islanders studying medicine in Cuba and a couple of Cuban doctors practicising in the Solomons. The Embassy is in Havana to maintain this level of support and see if co-operation can be extended to other areas such as disaster preparedness.

It’s widely known that Cuban medical personnel are posted by their government to health clinics and hospitals all over the world – about 37,000 currently work in over 60 countries, with many of them in Venezuela. Perhaps less well known is that literally thousands of students from different countries are in Cuba studying for their medical degrees. Many are at ELAM, the Latin American School of Medicine, in Havana but others are at Universities throughout Cuba. They come from all over the world; for example, there are more than 900 students from South Africa and a similar number from Pakistan. Some countries pay for their citizens’ studies, others don’t. One or two countries have specific arrangements; for example, a Cuban hospital has been set up in Dukhan in Qatar and is staffed by over 400 medical personnel.

Why does Cuba provide this level of medical support to other countries? Solidarity? Humanitarianism? Soft power? There may be an element of all of these but what is clear is that medical services are a source of useful income for the Cuban government – $5 billion a year by some estimates.  This makes Cuba no different from the United Kingdom where services also make up a large part of our exports (approximately £180bn ($281bn) per year). We also provide scholarships for international students to come and study in the UK (called Chevening scholarships). And, just like Cuba, the UK is deeply committed to improving the health care of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world, particularly those in fragile and post-conflict states. Our focus is different though – instead of supplying doctors and nurses, the Department for International Development (DFID) works with governments and health organisations to improve healthcare systems in the poorest countries, including supporting the development of drugs and vaccines.

An as-yet-unrevealed benefit of Cuban medical support is the large number of embassies in Havana (over 100) and the varied social life this provides. All over the world diplomats attend the national day celebrations of the countries represented in their host city. In Havana it’s no different, but here we have the benefit of hundreds of colleagues from all over the world with diverse perspectives and different backgrounds. This makes for rich and varied conversations, often about Cuba and our experiences here but also about everywhere else including now, luckily for us, the Solomons.

4 comments on “From Honiara to Havana for health reasons

  1. Dear Tim,

    one very last rreamrk: Pls. don ‘t get me wrong: But I ‘m a social teacher for the Stuttgart British Embassy group. So I do knowwhat ś the DFID programme consists of ‘. But next week when summer holidays are over some of my people whants to learn more about theDGIT. And I should find the correct answers. Hope you help me.
    Enjoy the weekend, Ingo-Steven Stuttgart

  2. Dear Tim,
    I ḿ very sorry for the interruption in my last link. Perhaps you will found it strange: but pls let me end this 2nd comment with just one singele question: What is the meaning of DGIT ? It would be great if you could mail me an answer.
    BW, Ingo-Stefan , Stuttgart

  3. dear tjm,
    we are sorry here, we want to commented more but we have some seriell PC Problems. Ingo will try on thursday again and will interprated your great Story in to the way of some south Germans (Stuttgarters) (Baden Wurttembegers).
    We, Thomas Brueckner plus Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart Baden Wurttemberg.

  4. Dear Tim,
    what an outstanding report to me to read – so full of backround stories of the past.I.e. about the Solomomes (Honvara is the capital? Very interesting and outstanding in Summer 19. After you ‘ve describeb so cleverall the benefits, I only can deiscaver little dark clouds.I mean I can the see 1st.steps in progress : TheDFID

Comments are closed.

About Tim Cole

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat…

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat since 2001; before Cuba, I spent 5 years in London where I worked on Pan-African policy and global economic issues and 6 years in southern Africa as Deputy Head of Mission in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Most of my career has been in Africa as before joining the FCO I ran humanitarian aid programmes in Central Africa for the British NGOs Christian Aid and Save the Children. I’m married to Clare and we have 2 children – Jonathan and Zea.

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