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The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba is now 10 years old, and has an enrollment of 10,000 students from dozens of countries, who are studying to be doctors without any cost for their families.

Latin American School of Medicine enrollment in Cuba reaches 10,000 "Our current enrollment is close to 10,000 students. We have had five classes graduate so far (after completing the six-year program), for a total of 7,248 graduates from 28 countries," Midalys Castilla, academic vice rector, commented.

Currently, young people from 55 countries — including Africa and small Pacific islands — take classes at the ELAM, 75% of them from working-class and farming families, and there are students from 104 indigenous communities in Latin America.

The only thing required from the students (from 17 to 25 years old) is that once they earn their degrees, they will return to their hometowns to practice medicine, thus returning what they have received in knowledge.

That was the situation with the first 34 U.S. graduates — now there are 113 — from the United States, which obliged the institution to obtain accreditation from the California Medical Board.

In Cuba there are also 11,000 scholarship students as part of the ALBA project, the integration agreement of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, formed by Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, among others.

Initially, "there was great resistance from medical associations in some countries," the vice rector commented during a tour of ELAM’s facilities, located outside the capital.

She noted that the medical associations’ concern diminished as they discovered that these colleagues were returning to their hometowns, to places generally neglected by doctors.

Even some governments in the region who were somewhat distrustful of the program – whether or not they expressed it – later changed their perceptions, Castilla said.

In places like Honduras, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, the youthful graduates have had to struggle for recognition of their degrees. Little by little, though, the universities, medical associations, and governments have begun to cede. In contrast, the diplomas are automatically recognized in Spain.

"We are at an important moment in terms of the program’s validation," Castilla said.

Classes began in February 1999 with about 1,900 young people, especially from Central America. At that time, two hurricanes had devastated poor communities in that region.

Then-president Fidel Castro said the time had come to train "humanistic" professionals who were committed to their communities, a veritable "army of white coats."

Currently, the students and alumni are working to form an international association. (With information from AP)

Source: Granma International

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