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Doctor Mercedes Blanco, a Cuban physician in Guatemala

Guatemala (Prensa Latina) Dr. Mercedes Blanco's story in the northeastern department of Alta Verapaz shows the work during 2023, and before, of the anonymous heroes of Cuba's collaboration in Guatemala.

By Zeus Naya, Chief correspondent in Guatemala

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of uninterrupted work of the Cuban medical brigade in this nation, celebrated on November 5, Dr. Blanco, who was born in western Pinar del Río province, told his story since she arrived in 2018.

In exclusive statements to Prensa Latina, Dr. Blanco stated that she was located in a Permanent Care Center in the Cobán municipality, the main town in the department, 212 kilometers from the city of Chapina.

With experiences from previous missions in Honduras (2003-2006), Mozambique (2009-2011) and in the Amazon, Brazil, (2013-2016), in her first year here she attended to emergencies and all patients who came to that health institution.

FROM THE BEGINNING

She described that initial stage as something unprecedented; “We find diseases that we only see when we are studying our degree in Cuba,” stressed the professional and wife of a banking engineer.

Here they have their Mayan dialect and communication is a little difficult, but we always try to achieve it through signs and adjust to each other, noted the physician, who had to learn Portuguese in Africa.

She referred to childbirths by serious-ill women, malnourished children, with marasmus or kwashiorkor, whose healths were very deteriorated due to their own condition.

“The city of Cobán is very beautiful, it is cold and does not have much poverty, but when you arrive in the communities, you find situations that really shock you,” she emphasized.

She mentioned street children who were begging for money, food, “they knock on your door in case you have work for them to mow the yard, among other moving issues,” the mother of two sons, with a grandson she does not know, said.

But in general, it is a very kind, grateful population and for the treatment received they confessed that they had never had a doctor friend, “they went to the house, knocked on the door because they knew that we were there to support them,” she said.

“After 2019, upon returning from my first vacations in Cuba, I took the position of coordinator in Cobán, which I held for four years,” the specialist said.

Apart from her duties as head of the departmental work team, Dr. Blanco programmed, organized and participated in the consultations given during the free medical sessions.

COVID-19

In Dr. Blanco’s opinion, she had an exceptional brigade during the Covid-19 pandemic, “my respect really reaches wherever they are, because they concluded their work in Guatemala and began to return to Cuba in June, July and August,” she stated.

We faced SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the disease, hard because we were practically alone at the hospital, since some of the Guatemalan professionals were over 60 years old, she recalled.

She asserted that some had their associated illnesses and then the Cuban brigade, with an average age of 47, took the step forward. “We got sick and we fought it there,” she recalled.

She mentioned Mildrecia Vaillant, from Santiago de Cuba, “my recognition goes to her, she was a mother, a friend, she took care of us, the breakfast, the snack, it was a beautiful thing,” she noted.

She considered that experience unique and commented that she was infected and had a hard time, but she was able to get through it with the help of her colleagues.

We knew that our companions were having a hard time in Cuba, but here the battle was equally tough, they called us at any time, she reflected.

At first, she stressed, without resources, they had to buy means of protection and they were even called in the early morning to file a case of a deceased person in the morgue, whom they had to swab.

The work was hard, said the doctor from Vueltabajo, Pinar del Río, whose altruism, respect for life and love for others always accompany her on her travels.

TROPICAL STORMS ETA AND IOTA (2020)

After difficult months due to Covid-19, Tropical Storm Eta and Depression Iota caused severe damage to the country in November 2020, which Cuban health professionals had to faced.

Dr. Blanco assured that the floods in Cobán were severe and several of his colleagues boarded a helicopter to collaborate in places without access and no communication. They brought food (they prepared the typical Cuban broth), donated clothing and medicine.

Doctors came to isolated villages and communities to assist the victims. She explained that in Brazil she saw people eaten by crocodiles, who slept in a hut and bathed in a river with piranhas.

At the end of her work in Guatemala, after two and a half years without going to Cuba on vacations, Dr. Blanco pointed out that she left with the satisfaction of having fulfilled her duty.

The local culture was marked by broths with güisquil, all the food, although not the chili, and, on the other hand, “they really like ours here, when they saw us they asked us for congrí and tostones,” she concluded.

More than 400 Cuban health collaborators in Guatemala have concluded an arduous year, but with the infinite gratitude and affection of a largely indigenous, rural, and historically discriminated population.

Dr. Blanco’s story partially summarizes that of the true protagonists behind millions of cases attended to here, surgeries, births, lives saved, and above all, a lot of love shared by Guatemalans.

jg/arb/znc

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