BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Medical Revolution

I live in California, where a fledgling public health insurance marketplace is ushering a new gold rush of sorts. A driving force is of course President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Under such reform, capital cheers when the commodity of health care grows. A different kind of health-care system concerns author Steve Brouwer. In Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care, he details that alternate way ahead for medicine and people to improve social equity and solidarity. It’s moving ahead now in Latin America. Brouwer’s book teems with his first-hand accounts from a village in Monte Carmelo. His focus amplifies the model of de-commoditized health care that rules the roost stateside. 

The author, with rigor and style, informs readers about the doctors and health professionals pursuing a post-capitalist way of living and working. This is no mean feat. Why? Look no further than US anti-socialist propaganda against Cuba and Venezuela. Oh, and don’t sidestep the straw man politics of this tendency. That is opponents of President Barack Obama insisting that he is a closet socialist. Meanwhile, he aims to raise $1 billion for re-election from those reds in hedge funds pulling down seven-figures and up annually. 

Brouwer, in chapters two through four, details the root and flower of Cuba’s medical missions on and off the island nation. A notable case, heroic is the term that comes to mind, involves aid to Haiti after the horrific earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. In brief, Cuban doctors and nurses led the relief effort. Then they stayed to build up the infrastructure of primary and preventative care so lacking in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, thanks to unceasing US and French aggression, financially and politically, since a successful slave revolt over two centuries ago.

The life and labor of Che Ernesto Guevara, Argentinean medical doctor and revolutionary, runs a red line through Brouwer’s book. He explores Che’s legacy over a past half-century of developments in Cuba and Latin America. This narrative runs counter to the US government’s demonization of such figures who saw the widespread inequality and poverty in the Third World as an outgrowth of capitalist imperialism and worked to lessen its harsh effects on ordinary people.

In chapters five through eight, the author explores the phenomenon of Barrio Adentro “in the neighborhood,” Venezuela’s public health initiative, funded with revenues from the nation’s state-owned oil company.

Cuban medical professionals live and work with neighborhood volunteers. The latter are ordinary people who form themselves into committees. Their daily tasks are varied. For instance, they prepare nutritious meals and compile health data. We get glimpses of how and why Venezuelans are consumers and producers of health care.

Snapshots of ordinary Venezuelans training to become doctors reveals their social support system. The role of grandparents is notable. The author details Medicina Integral Communitaria, a Cuban-partnered training program: its creation, structure, curriculum, growth and social gains. MIC is remarkable in no small way for its empowerment of Venezuelan women in the cities and countryside. In Venezuela, the practice and study of medicine integrates with the community.

A vital part of this is the labor of physician-tutors. The author walks us through the lives of first-year medical students to make concrete this social process.

A “battle of ideas” rages hot and cold as the revolution in primary care grows throughout Latin America.

Mainstream media in the US act as service providers to the investor class forces that see such a development as a threat to capitalist power and wealth. Demonizing Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, is a kind of cottage industry.

Meanwhile, a new way of practicing medicine flourishes throughout Venezuela and Latin America generally.

Brouwer wraps up his book on a medical approach that is bottom-up versus the top-down disaster in the US by making clear what is at stake, for whom and why.

Seth Sandronsky writes in Sacramento. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2012

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