Subject: TLGOV: Timor-Leste medical students in Cuba ‘the best and most disciplined’


MEDIA RELEASE Dili, November 15 2006 Timor-Leste medical students in Cuba ‘the best and most disciplined’

Timor-Leste’s 498 students in Cuba are considered to be the best among thousands of overseas people studying medicine there ­ in terms of results and discipline, according to Vice-Minister of Health Luis Lobato.

“Our young people are a credit to all of Timor-Leste as they work hard and show great discipline,” Mr Lobato said. “I am told by Cuban authorities that they are the best.

“The kindness, sincerity and generosity of the Cuban people and Government is overwhelming. Despite all it is currently doing for Timor-Leste, Cuba is taking another 200 of our students in the coming months.”

Twenty one other countries have people studying medicine in Cuba, which is a poor and developing nation but with one of the best health systems in the world ­ in some cases far better than in the United States, where public hospitals in some instances are no better than hospitals in developing countries.

Cuba also has 302 doctors working throughout Timor-Leste. More than 120 of these doctors are specialists working in hospitals in Dili, Maliana, Baucau, Suai, Oecussi and Maubissi. Although the Timor-Leste Government initially contributed a modest amount to the costs associated with the program, the Cuban Government now pays the wages of all its doctors and charges our medical students nothing for studies.

Prime Minister Dr José Ramos-Horta today praised the commitment and courage of the Cuban doctors helping Timor-Leste.

“During the worst of the crisis in May, June and July our Cuban doctors stayed unconditionally in the villages and hospitals with the patients and the people, providing the much-needed moral, medical and psychological support,” Dr Ramos-Horta said.

“This is in contrast with American Peace Corp volunteers, who, even though there was not the slightest threat to their safety and well-being in rural areas, were given orders by the US administration to leave our country.

“The Cuban courage and commitment is also in contrast with the Japanese. JICA, the Japanese International Co-operation Agency, abruptly interrupted its co-operation in Timor-Leste, even though there was never any threat to Japanese nationals, particularly in the rural areas.”

The original scholarship program between Cuba and Timor-Leste was discussed on the sidelines at a summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 when President Xanana Gusmão met Cuban President Fidel Castro and 50 medical scholarships were offered at that time. Dr Ramos-Horta was there in his capacity as Foreign Minister.

Subsequently, the Cuban Government raised the number of scholarships to a maximum of 1000.

“Thanks to the generosity of another relatively poor nation, when we have at least 500 of our students complete the course and return ­ together with the ones studying in Timor-Leste and other countries ­ we will have a ratio of doctors-to-population as high as that of any developed country,” Dr Ramos-Horta said.

“Timor-Leste has been blessed by having many nations as real friends, but I must ask: what greater gift can we receive than a guaranteed health system for our people? This is the gift from the people of Cuba.”

The Prime Minister stressed that Timor-Leste did not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and their choice of political system.

“The US and Cuba might not have diplomatic relations and have been in a state of “no war, no peace” for the past 40 years or so,” Dr Ramos-Horta said, “but Timor-Leste has good solid relations with both.

“The Cubans treat our young people wonderfully. They are allowed to practise their religion without interference and I have asked our church whether they could send a chaplain to Cuba to minister to our students’ spiritual needs.

“I have also asked Bishop Carlos Belo to visit our students and he will do this soon.”

Last Monday the Prime Minister and Vice-Minister for Health addressed a gathering of several hundred parents and other relatives of the students in Dili. Dr Ramos-Horta told the gathering that all of Timor-Leste was very proud of the commitment the students were making to the nation.

Timor-Leste has other medical students in Indonesia, Portugal, the Philippines, Fiji, Malaysia and Australia.

“When our doctors return in 2012 I hope we will have one doctor for every village,” Dr Ramos-Horta said.

For further information please contact::

Joel Maria Pereira Information Officer Gabinete Primeiru Ministru Email: Telephone: +670 7254740

Ivana Belo Information Officer Gabinete Primeiru Ministru Email: Telephone: +670 724 3559.

Julian Swinstead Communications/Media Advisor Office of the Prime Minister Email: Telephone: +670 732 7776.

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