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Cuba and the Chernobyl children, 37 years later

Mexico, Apr 27 (Prensa Latina) The local newspaper La Jornada paid tribute to Cuba's invaluable support for child victims of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl 37 years later, by publishing a chronicle by Tanalis Padilla, a professor-researcher from Massachusetts.

The expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recalled that while some countries sent technical assistance to contain and seal the reactor that exploded on April 26, 1986, with an incalculable number of deaths, in 1990, when the tragedy ceased to make headlines, Cuba sent doctors to assess the health consequences of radiation.

They found a situation in which the levels of cancer in children had increased by 90 percent, which motivated them to undertake a medical assistance that is still difficult to measure: from 1990 to 2011, Cuba treated 26,000 people, including 22,000 children, paying for their medical care, food, housing and recreation expenses for the minors and their companions, she added.

The first 139 Chernobyl children arrived in Cuba on March 29, 1990, she added, and were welcomed by Fidel Castro. The images are moving, the president looks at and greets the parents attentively and tenderly caresses the children. He promises them the best medical care.

The Chernobyl children kept coming for more than two decades. Tarara, a town that is 20 kilometers east of Havana, was chosen to serve them. Located on the seashore, Tarara was a vacation destination for the upper middle class before the Revolution, the text says.

The revolutionary government turned it into a youth summer camp. In 1990, it was adapted to serve the Chernobyl children. In addition to having two hospitals and a clinic, the camp had a dining room, recreational and cultural areas, a school, a theater, and parks.

“It wasn’t like being in a hospital, even the sickest children had a good time,” recalled Roman Gerus, who was in Tarara as a boy.

Khrystyna Kostenetska, who was also treated there, said, “I remember an incredible sea, waves, sunsets, nature and ice cream. I also remember children with serious health problems.”

All were treated under the integral logic of the Cuban medical system, whose teams included pediatricians, oncologists, psychiatrists, and dentists. Cuba’s initiative, which has been described as the longest humanitarian program in history, took place during one of the most difficult times for Cuba.

The disintegration of the USSR in the early 1990s had eliminated Cuba’s major trading partner, so the Caribbean island’s economy was under a brutal contraction. Everything was scarce, except solidarity.

When historian John Kirk, who wrote the book “Public Health without Borders” about the Chernobyl children, asked the Tarara director how Cuba could offer this help in such difficult times, he replied, “They are children, very sick children. How could we not treat them?”

In addition to suffering from physical ailments, many of these children lived with the trauma of being evacuated from their homes. Xenia Laurenti, deputy director of the Tarara Program, asserted firmly, “If you ask a Ukrainian child what they would like, they don’t answer ‘toys’, but ‘health’.”

You cannot put a price on this effort to heal. “This is not just medical help,” a mother said, “it is a great moral help for my people.” It was, like so many other initiatives by the Cuban revolutionary government, an incomparable globalization of solidarity.

jg/mgt/lma

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