Cuba marks 60 years of medical mission — 47 years service to Jamaica
Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Fermîn Quiñones (centre) presents a plaque to CEO Camille Lewin and parish manager for Westmoreland Health Services, Novlin Leslie Little, while members of the Cuban medical delegation and Jamaican hospital staff look on. (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — Despite Jamaica's friendly neighbour to the north facing tough times, economically, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the US embargo, the Cuban Government has promised its continued health-care support to the Caribbean region.

"The Cuban cooperation will stay in Jamaica and our Government has the political will to continue expanding cooperation not only in Jamaica but in the region of the Caribbean," stated Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Fermîn Quiñones.

Ambassador Quiñones was addressing a function at the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital in this parish last Wednesday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Cuba Medical Cooperation Programme.

While the programme that serves more than 50 countries worldwide started in 1963, the Jamaica partnership began in 1976 at the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital with 14 doctors and nurses. Since then, Jamaicans have benefitted significantly from the Cuban Government's generosity in scholarships and cooperations in health care. The Jamaica Observer was informed that the popular Cuban Eye Care programme should resume in midsummer, following its suspension because of COVID-19.

Parish manager for Westmoreland Health Services, which includes the hospital and clinics in the parish, Novlin Leslie Little (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

Over 300 professionals under the Cuba Medical Brigade are in Jamaica. The group comprises doctors, nurses, dentists, technologists and biomedical engineers currently serving in hospitals and clinics across Jamaica.

The ambassador argued that at a time when war has impacted several lives, Cuba's aim is to save lives.

"War is taking part of our life but Cuba is not sending troops anywhere. Cuba is sending all the time our army of white coats to save lives and we will continue doing this," Quiñones stated.

Besides medical cooperations, the ambassador said the Cuban Government will be providing more scholarships to Jamaican students for pre-graduate and postgraduate studies.

Senior Medical Officer Dr Suman Vemu. (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

Information requested by the Sunday Observer has shown that Cuba is providing five scholarships this year. Four are in medicine and the other in nursing. Besides, two medical graduates will also study in the specialised areas of orthopaedics and traumatology.

"That means we are not only bringing cooperation in health support in the health-care system in the countries where we are working. But we work in supporting the creation of expertise and human preparation of the human resources in the countries where we are working through scholarship or through programmes in the places where we are participating or we are working," stated Ambassador Quiñones.

Ambassador Quiñones also thanked hospital administrators and municipal corporations for the support given over the years.

In 2021, over 250 health-care workers were sent to Jamaica to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Fermîn Quiñones addresses the function. At right is comprehensive general medicine Specialist at Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, Dr Gerardo Alejo Toste.(Photo: Anthony Lewis)

Director of Nursing Services Hazeline Forrester, who has served at the Westmoreland-based hospital for almost 30 years, said the services provided by the Cuban team over the years is appreciated.

"I want to tell you that from experience, I have seen quality nurses coming to us. There are nurses over the years that we really could depend on during rough times and good times. They are here in an emergency. We could just call them to come across or come from wherever they are to be with us to assist us, as we have our patients to care for. I am thankful that in your endeavour to help other countries, Jamaica was a part of it. And so, I just want to say thank you again nurses," emphasised Forrester.

Forrester has been to Cuba and observed the training of nurses first-hand.

"Last year when I went to Cuba it was a plus for me because I learned that Cuban nurses are hard workers who should not say no. Whatever the situation, they should try to assist in the best way possible. So, they can't fool me anymore — they can work — because they know I have been to the country and I know what is expected of them," quipped Forrester.

Medical officer of health for Westmoreland Health Department, Dr Marcia Graham.(Photo: Anthony Lewis)

Medical officer of health for the Westmoreland Health Department, Dr Marcia Graham, was equally appreciative of the Cuban team.

"We really appreciate the assistance we would have got because we find that sometimes it's hard to attract nurses and doctors outside of the larger cities. And, because of where we are located, sometimes we do not have persons, even when vacancies are there. We don't have persons applying and being willing to work with us. And so we are glad that you have come from afar. Although your closest neighbour, you have come across the waters to help us to fill the gap," stated Dr Graham.

"We appreciate the help that we would have got and we know that persons enjoy working with us in primary care. I can say, because we have got the request for extension of stay. We have got the request for a return stay and so we know that you feel at home among us and that we mutually benefit from this relationship," stated Dr Graham.

As for her counterpart at the hospital, Senior Medical Officer Dr Suman Vemu, who has worked at Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James in the past, he has fond memories of the Cubans over the years. He too is aware of the extension stay request.

Director of Nursing Services Hazeline Forrester (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

"We always have a challenge with specialist nurses and specialist doctors. The help that we got in the specialist department I really appreciate, and I know that a lot of persons when they come they start loving the place and they want to stay — extension of the contracts — [and] we always encourage them," stated Dr Vemu.

Parish manager for the Westmoreland Health Services, which includes the hospital and clinics in the parish, Novlin Leslie Little, who remembered the assistance Cuba provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, is hoping for many more years of continued partnership.

BY ANTHONY LEWIS Sunday Observer writer

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at


  1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper; email addresses will not be published.
  2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.
  3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.
  4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.
  5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:
  6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:
  7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

Which long-term investment option is more attractive to you at the moment?