Open Letter of Pakistani Medical Students in Cuba

       It is stated respectfully that we, a sum of about 1000 Pakistani students reached here in Cuba on the course of Medical Studies, when Cuban Government offered 1000 scholarships to Pakistani students. Since our arrival we have found unsatisfying living conditions, which were not up to our expectations. Second year of MBBS is about to finish, however there are still many critical problems unresolved. Our students’ representatives met the Cuban Officials to discuss the matters of “Study Duration”, “Medical Practice” and “The Campus facilities”. They informed us that these matters had been discussed with our Government. The question rises, “Why the Government took the crucial decision of sending 1000 students, selected on the merit base, under such circumstances?” We are forced to say that a great irresponsibility has been shown by our Government as she has sent the best students from all over the Pakistan without analyzing; the basic educational facilities (e.g. hospital availability, laboratories and dissection halls etc.) and the living conditions provided to the students.
       We are very much frustrated and feel our future on stake, as we do not even know whether our degree is valid or not.
The details of the issues are following

1.      According to the deed of agreement (the judicial stamp paper) between the HEC and students, we had to study in the world leading Medical University of Cuba. It was also advertised in the newspaper. Sir! Our school, by no definitions of the world, can be called a world leading university and is not included into ELAM.  ELAM is a system of medical education in Cuba, which provides its students with better facilities. The students stay in the main campus in Havana for the first two years and then they are shifted to various Provincial Medical Faculties with attached hospitals. This system is far better than ours. Here it’s worth mentioning that we are studying under a new system still, “Nuevo Programa de Formación de los Médicos” (New Program of Formation Doctors), which is totally different from ELAM. Recently, our campus was a Spanish language learning school and now it is the medical school.  It lacks basic facilities, like library, proper laboratory, no specimens (The dead bodies etc) are available for the dissection, and even the nearest hospital is far away from our school. How can one think of a medical school without any hospital attached? Staying in the same campus for the next 6 years, we could not get the quality education and medical practice. All around the world in the recognized medical institutions, the Hospital Practice is obligatory from the 3rd Year, however in our case, only one trimester comprising of 12 weeks is dedicated to the medical practice in some hospital and the rest of time we shall stay at the same school.
We should be treated like the students of ELAM. Now, we are in the 2nd year of Medicine and we must be shifted to proper faculties of Medicine with attached hospitals like that of Havana, Camagüey or Santiago de Cuba, divided into no more than two groups.

2.      In the advertisement of HEC and in the legal papers submitted to HEC, it was clearly stated that we will receive a 1 year Spanish language course and 5 years of medical studies (total duration being 6 years). Here the situation is different. According to the system, we have to go through a 1 year language course plus 6 years MBBS course, making the total duration of studies, 7 years. Then we will have to do the house job for 1 year in Pakistan. So, in total the whole process will take about 8 years and one golden year of our life will be wasted.
We want our medical program to end in December 2012 (Lasting 6 years in total) as written in the advertisement and the legal papers. We want to get the surety that our house job should be in Pakistan, and that it will be provided immediately after our return.

3.      1000 Pakistani students have been sent by the Government of Pakistan, in a contract at the level of the two governments. It is proclaimed world over that the Cuban Medicine is the best around the globe, but still the PMDC does not recognize this system. The PMDC has recognized a couple of medical universities of China, where the students study on self-finance basis on their own expenses. We were selected on the merit basis and we are among the best students of Pakistan.
The PMDC must recognize this degree and the system, and we shall be allowed to work as medical practitioners in Pakistan without appearing in the PMDC exam.

4.      It is stated respectfully that according to PC 1 for the scholarship project of 1000 Pakistani students studying in Cuba, the amount of stipend decided was 100 Dollars per student per month (equivalent to 80 Euros more or less) with an increment of 5 Dollars per year. However we have been receiving a sum of 30 Euros per month during the first year and 50 Euros per month onwards without any increment. The question of the hour is that if 80 Euros per month was allocated for each student then why HEC has been paying 30 Euros and afterwards 50 euros per student? Where has gone the rest of amount? In a meeting of Senate standing committee, HEC and the Ministry of Education personnel held in Islamabad, it was already approved that the stipend must be raised to 100 EUROS but no practical step has been taken. There are students from other countries like Djibouti, Mali, and Yemen etc. who receive an amount of about 200-250 Euros/month. Keeping in view some basic needs and the price hike in Cuba, we find stipend not enough to fulfill our basic needs. Some details are mentioned below:
a.      TRANSPORT: In all the academic institutes of the world special buses are provided to the students for the transportation purposes. In our case, the nearest city is 15Km far from our school and we have been in an utter need of school transport. In the beginning, the transport was promised by the HEC and Cuban Government. This promise was never fulfilled. However at the same time Chinese Students, who are localized in the same locality under the same circumstances, have been provided with the buses for transportation. So, we had to arrange the transport on our on. All the students raise funds monthly and pay for the transportation. We have to pay a heavy amount for this purpose i.e. almost equivalent to Rupees 1 Lac (Rs 1,00,000) monthly.
b.      INTERNET: The necessity of internet is inevitable in this modern era. We have not been provided Worldwide Internet facilities. The internet provided to us is an INTRANET with an access to local e-mail server and some local websites. The international websites are blocked like Yahoo, Hotmail etc that we could use for the better communication purposes. We need a full fledge Internet access in order to access the online Study Material. We are almost cut off from our families and the rest of the world. Near to us, there are two faculties (AJ-39 and J-32) of Chinese Students in the same locality of Jagüey Grande (one faculty AJ-32 is just 2Km away from us). In these schools full access to Worldwide Internet has been provided to the students and their Government pays for it. Our Government has always been silent to this matter so, we decided to get the internet on our own expenditure. It costs 2120 CUC monthly (equivalent to Rs. 2,12,000 more or less) + an installation fee of 1800 CUC (equivalent to almost Rs. 1,80,000).
c.      GENERAL EXPENSES: Apart from the above mentioned main expenses, religious and cultural activities, there are various other basic needs like food, stationary clothing and communication etc. which demand a fair share of our stipend. Some examples of the general commodities are given below:
Normal quality t-shirt:                                             10 to 15 CUC (Rs 1000 to 1500)
Jeans:                                                                 20 CUC (Rs 2000)
Calling Card (for 2 minutes call to Pakistan):  10 CUC (Rs 1000)
I kg powdered milk:                                          6 CUC (about Rs 600)

       For these basic needs, the stipend is always insufficient and students face economic crisis. There is no option of part time job and our parents can not afford sending money to us every month, as majority of students belong to lower middle class families. Our parents sent us to Cuba under the Fascinating Subject “FULLY FUNDED SCHOLARSHIP”. If the parents send the money, they will have to pay heavy transaction costs (i.e. 10-15%). According to PC 1 the stipend should be 110 USD (considering 5% annual increment), that is not being accomplished by the HEC. Keeping in view all the above mentioned expenditures, we request that our stipend must be increased to 200 Euros monthly so that we may make the both ends meet and fulfill our basic needs easily.
*As recommended by the Senate standing committee and the Ministry of Education personnel.

5.      Cuba and Pakistan are two countries on two opposite corners of the globe. The problems of communication are known to everyone due to which, a sense of homesickness and remoteness prevails all the time. One ticket was provided to us by HEC after completion of two years. This trip helped us a lot to recover our lost energies and, we came back with a new passion and enthusiasm to work hard to be a good doctor who may serve the country in the best possible way. For the rest of the duration (i.e. 4-5 years) no ticket will be provided according to the HEC. We request that at least one more roundtrip ticket must be provided after next two years for a visit to home. This has also been recommended by the Senate Standing Committee and Ministry of Education and they have suggested the same to the HEC.

We expect an amiable consideration of all the above matters. Kind positive answers are awaited with humble gratitude.
All the Pakistani students of Maximo Santiago Haza.

Spell Bounder

I'm journalist in Pakistan,And working in this field about 20 years.