US Medical Group Welcomes Offer of Cuban Doctors

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - The American Medical Student Association said Tuesday it welcomes Cuba's offer to train American physicians for what the association calls "underserved" areas of America. Cuban lawmakers during a recent visit to the United States offered to send doctors to what they considered to be "poor" parts of the United States.

"The health of our nation is in a state of dire crisis. The number of uninsured Americans is climbing dramatically. The areas of the country that are not adequately served by a physician are swelling," Association President Doctor Sindhu Srinivas said in a statement at the association's national headquarters in Reston, Virginia.

Srinivas criticized Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, Democratic candidate Al Gore and Congress for their health care proposals.

"The American people cannot get a commitment from either major presidential candidate to develop a real, comprehensive solution to our problems, and Congress spins its collective wheels on partisan politics and pandering to special interests," Srinivas said.

"So, who has generously offered to help us solve this problem? The poor, communist island nation of Cuba," Srinivas said. "Cuban lawmakers recently outlined an offer to send doctors to poor parts of the United States and to provide free medical training in Cuba annually to 500 Americans from under-represented populations. A generous offer, yet a pathetic statement on American priorities."

Srinivas said the National Health Service Corps could help Congress address the problem. The organization, according to Srinivas, provides full scholarships to future physicians in exchange for a promise to practice in underserved areas such as rural counties and urban centers.

"This important program may go without necessary reauthorization during this election year. Congress must reauthorize the Corps as one step toward addressing the larger issues of increasing access to health care for underserved Americans," Srinivas said.

Srinivas' comments occurred on the eve of a visit to Washington by two Cuban doctors who recently defected from the communist country. Noris Pena Martinez and Leonel Cordova Rodriguez will be in the nation's capital Wednesday to tell the story of how they defected to the United States by way of Zimbabwe and Sweden several weeks ago.

Cuban authorities, meanwhile, continue to detain Doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, charging him with "improper use of state-owned materials" in connection with a study that Biscet and a colleague did on abortion. Biscet has been jailed since 1998. Members of Congress, Amnesty International, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Physicians for Human Rights and the Cuban American National Foundation have appealed to the Castro government for Biscet's release.