Cuba slaps travel limits on doctors to plug brain drain

Cuba slaps travel limits on doctors to plug brain drain

Friday, December 04, 2015

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HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) -- Cuba will place renewed restrictions on the movement of doctors out of the country, it said Tuesday, acknowledging a brain drain has "seriously" hurt the nation's much-vaunted health system.

In a statement published in the official Granma newspaper, the communist authorities said that beginning December 7 doctors will again be required to ask permission to travel abroad for private reasons.

The rules, which also impose a five-year waiting period for doctors seeking to emigrate permanently, had been set aside after the government approved a new emigration law in January 2013.

That law allowed Cubans to travel freely for the first time in half a century.

The latest measures do not mean "that medical specialists cannot travel or live abroad," authorities said.

However, it said health centres across the island "have been seriously affected" by a shortage of certain medical specialists because they have been leaving the island -- usually for better-paid work overseas.

"In the last three years nearly half a million Cubans have travelled to other countries on personal business," the government reported, saying it represented an 81 per cent surge over the prior three-year period.

"In this context, migration of Cuban health professionals is a concern for the country," it said.

Anesthesia, general surgery, intensive care and cardiology were among the specialities that had "been seriously affected by an unplanned drain of vital medical staff."

In September, Cuba said it would allow doctors who deserted while on foreign missions to return home without punishment or loss of position in the state health care system.

Cuba might be impoverished but it has long been known for producing quality doctors and providing excellent medical services.

The recent rapprochement between Havana and Washington has led to a surge in Cuban migrants trying to reach the United States.

Under Cold War-era US immigration law, Cubans who reach US shores are allowed to stay and are put on a fast-track to permanent residency.

US administration officials say there are no plans to change the law, but Cuban migrants fear otherwise.

Cuba said the renewed measures will "mitigate damage occurring as a result of the United States' selective and politicised immigration policy towards Cuba and the unplanned departure of doctors to other countries."

There are about 85,000 Cuban doctors, of whom 25,000 are working abroad across more than 50 countries. Professional services, particularly in the medical industry, represent the largest source of income in the Cuban economy, generating some US$10 billion annually.

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