On a beach outside Havana stands the crown jewel of Cuba’s renowned international program of medical education, training 13,000 students from around the world free of charge.
Some 25km west of the Cuban capital, the school welcomes students from 124 different countries, most of them from low-income families.
Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) is one of three universities launched by Cuban revolutionary leader and former president Fidel Castro to boost his international credentials, with the other two dedicated to sports and film.
But unlike the film school, it has always been free, representing Castro’s view that healthcare is a fundamental right.
With an average of one doctor per 148 inhabitants, Cuba is among the best-served countries in terms of health, according to the WHO.
The school trains students in nearly all medical specialties, and students often choose their focus depending on the needs of their home country.
ELAM’s internationalist mission carries it beyond Cuba’s shores. The school leads training programs in 67 countries and serves 26,000 students.
But Cuba has fallen on hard economic times. And ELAM’s ability to provide quality education free of charge is being eroded. Last year, the school received its first paying students, though they had received grants from their home countries. One of the solutions being studied is to make students pay for specialized studies.
Cuba is now being forced to boost the number of bilateral agreements with different countries so that they can pay for part of the costs currently assumed by Havana.
One may wonder how economically-disadvantaged Cuba can financially afford free medical education but hey, they’ve done it! Maybe it could serve as a possible solution to severe doctor shortage of the five major fields in Taiwan!