Cuban health officials visiting city for a week

Delegation wants to learn about practices, equipment

August 07, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In another sign of healing relations between Cuba and the United States, several Cuban officials are visiting Baltimore to learn more about American health practices and medical equipment.

The visit marks the second time in 40 years that an official Cuban health delegation has come to the United States, the Cuban officials said, and it reciprocates two trips to Cuba this spring by Baltimore professionals.

Health care workers from both countries say the visits mark the beginning of a partnership on health issues between Cuba and Baltimore.

"You cannot do in Baltimore what we are doing in Cuba and we cannot do in Havana what you do here," said Dr. Cosme Ordonez Cancellor, director of a regional health network in Cuba. "But we can see the health problems in each place and improve them."

The seven Cubans, who include Dr. Luis Cordova Vargas, the country's vice minister of health, arrived Thursday night and will stay until Thursday. They will go to an Orioles game tonight, meet Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Monday and spend time at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Children's Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, among other places.

Yesterday, they visited Baltimore Mental Health Systems Inc. and Sinai Hospital's mental health unit, and in between spent an hour at WJHU-FM on the "Marc Steiner Show."

"We are impressed by the solidarity of health workers and the people of Baltimore toward the Cubans," Cancellor said.

Although Cuba is a poor country where the medical system has suffered under a decades-long trade embargo with the United States, its communist system dictates that every resident receive health care.

As a result, many indicators of health -- such as lower infant mortality, immunizations and life expectancy -- outshine or rival those in Baltimore.

"It just shows that if a country makes access to care for everyone a right, it can have significant impact," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, who went to Cuba in May and is spending the week with the visitors.

Still, for some, the Cuban visitors raise the specter of communism.

Officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service were not aware that the Cubans were visiting, said Richard Caterisano, acting director of the Baltimore district INS office.

"The only time we would get involved is if someone had an immigration problem or question," Caterisano said.

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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