On Monday February 4th 2008, Nabeel Yar Khan left Canada as the first student ever to go study medicine in Cuba at ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine). Each year Cuba trains thousands of doctors, hundreds among those students from the poorest, most remote, most neglected areas of countries all over the world. Cuba's internationalist mission in healthcare is a program which offers scholarships to poor students to study medicine on the island, with the intention for them to return to practice in their home communities in need, or wherever they may be needed througout the world. In the most dire situations all across the globe, Cuba also sends medical teams, always first on the scene, to secure those who are abandoned by the international community.
Worldwide Cuba has over 30,000 doctors providing free medical care to more than 60 countries, they have been praised, loved, and appreciated by thousands accross the world for their unconditional, selfless sacrifices. To illustrate a few examples, they have been greatly complimented by Pakistanis for their efforts and refered to as having the "souls of angels". They work often in the most difficult conditions, with language barriers, and are dispatched to relieve the most horrific natural disasters. While they were working in Haiti, the country's president Rene Preval said, in expressing appreciation for their contributions, that the "Cuban doctors are second only to God." Fidel Castro sees their contributions as a crucial message of human solidarity, and says that the international teams set examples for "this humanity which will someday be truly humane."
Cuba's medical efforts in Canada were initially intended to reach out to the aboriginal community, to offer opportunities to students from these often overlooked communities, and for them to have the ability to give back to their communities upon returning. However, one particular comrade insisted on being an exception to the rule. Last year, Nabeel now a Canadian who's parents originated from India, participated in an exchange program which gave him the opportunity to travel to Cuba. While he was there he did volunteer work in a community clinic, an experience which opened his eyes two the exceptional realities of the Cuban healthcare system. He later wrote: "What I learned was that Cuba utilizes a system of preventive medicine, which Canada does not utilize. I believe Cuba could be a model for the Canadian health care system...I believe that this system is not only a model for Canada but the World entirely." After his experience, Nabeel was determined to become an internationalist doctor, and began taking the necessary steps to go study at ELAM.
Nabeel who is also involved in Cuba solidarity work in Canada, draws inspiration from Ernesto Che Guevara. In a letter sent to Fidel Castro, Nabeel wrote that "Ernesto’s characteristics have placed an imprint on me...I want to portray Ernesto by also fighting, not with arms, but with medicine, to help people around the world who are in desperate need." After his six year committment in Cuba, this young revolutionary has said that his "primary goal is to become a doctor, not to migrate back to Canada and practice, because it is a country that has substantial aid, but to take the education, skills, and capabilities to help the less developed and war-torn countries in this world." Nabeel is a pioneer who has made the valiant and selfless decision to offer the medical expertise he will learn for the well-being and prosperity of all the world's children; he is an inspiration and example to future Canadian students who aspire to study medicine. So in the spirit of Che Guevara, an exemplary human being who was also a doctor, we do justice to this cause by recalling some of his insight. In August of 1960 while giving a speech to Cuban medical students and health workers, in refering to the road taken by revolutionary doctors, Che said that "nobody can point out that stretch; that stretch is the personal road of each individual; it is what he will do everyday, what he will gain from his individual experience, and what he will give of himself in practising his profession, dedicated to the people's well-being."
Julien Lalonde for
Toronto Forum on Cuba.