Over 61 Guyanese doctors and medical students who are studying in Cuba have requested special permission to return home as the conditions in that country deteriorate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Government of Guyana has refused this request saying “evacuation of students by the Guyana Government at this stage is not possible.”
In documents seen by the News Room, the Department of Public Service informed the students that the issues and concerns surrounding their current conditions in Cuba were discussed by the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF) and it was determined that hampers with hygiene and food supplies will be sent for the students.
The students are on scholarship in Cuba where the Student Affairs Officer is Dr. Corlette Sengwe, who informed the doctors and students in an email that their relatives can also send small packages which weigh no more than five pounds with personal items to the Department of Public Service, 164 Waterloo Street, North Cummingsburg, Georgetown, by 14:00hrs on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.
“The estimate arrival of these products will be confirmed and you will advise accordingly,” the Student Affairs Officer noted.
However, the students are not pleased with the measures put in place as they remain at risk.
In a previous email to the Ambassador of Guyana to Cuba, Halim Majeed, the students highlighted difficulties to find food, basic goods, exposure to infection in work settings, etc.
They noted that they are forced to assist the Cuban medical practitioners but they are not provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“Classes and teaching have been suspended throughout all areas and fields of study. However, sixth-year medical students and doctors are still being encouraged to continue working as an assistance to the workforce in many provinces. It is important to note, that in many instances our students and residents have not been afforded the correct PPE for their protection,” the email outlined.
The Guyana Government said it is also awaiting the arrival of the PPE which it will provide as it pleaded with the medical students to be patient.
Meanwhile, the students also detailed that even though they are required to work, there are no provisions in place for transportation or for their physical safety.
“Transportation has been paralyzed, sixth-year medical students and residents are required to arrive at their hospitals, which in many cases are located at great distances from the university. There has been no plan in place to facilitate transport, yet we are told that we are part of the workforce and encouraged to wake up early to walk and arrive at work on time. Not forgetting the high risks we are exposed to,” the frustrated students highlighted.
The students pointed out that while Cuba has instituted measures to curb the spread of the disease, it has not put any systems in place to assist foreign nationals stuck there.
They noted that students are quarantined in schools and cannot leave the premises to purchase basic items while those who managed to leave are discriminated against by Cuban nationals.
“Only yesterday, new measures include that certain basic food and items will be rerouted to the bodega; it is common knowledge that these items in the bodega can only be sought with the use of a booklet. Foreign national students do not have access nor can they utilize the same. Therefore, how are we to get basic food, goods or necessities?
The students said they are not clear on plans relating to the continuation of their studies in Cuba and this has not been communicated to them by the Universities.