Solidarity and love for one’s neighbors defeat the blockade’s barriers

Dr. Melissa Barber

In the South Bronx, Dr. Melissa Barber battles COVID-19, putting into practice the lessons she learned in Cuba, at the Latin American School of Medicine

by Granma International news staff 

The United States has not been able to control COVID-19. The Donald Trump administration did not react in time, played down the reality, and as a result tens of thousands of people have died. Yet the government finds time to attack Cuba.

The U.S. blockade of Cuba, the longest in history anywhere, has been maintained and tightened to limit the Cuban health system’s access to essential inputs to confront the deadly SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19). Nonetheless, medical education on the island has overcome the barriers that have been erected by successive U.S. administrations and which Trump has set out to reinforce.

In New York, the epicenter of the disease in the country, Dr. Melissa Barber today puts into practice the lessons she learned in Cuba while studying at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). In the South Bronx, she leads a team that organizes and makes available to the community supplies and resources to confront the disease.

These American doctors have been trained in Cuba. Since its first class of 2005, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) has graduated tens of thousands of physicians from low-income communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas, including the USA. Thousands more are enrolled in the program, thanks to the full scholarships offered by Cuba. These new young doctors make a commitment to work in underserved areas upon graduation. Young people from over 100 ethnic groups, half of whom are women, study in an environment that recognizes the right of every patient to care, and that centers learning in the community, where health promotion is as important as disease management.

The number of positive cases is skyrocketing every day, while hospitals are overcrowded. Ensuring patient care is a real challenge, she told The Indypendent.

Never forgetting what she learned in Cuba, Dr. Barber stated, “Cuba, like few countries in the world, understands that a person’s medical care does not begin with the ambulance ride, but in the neighborhood.” She treats each neighbor as she did during her years as a student in Cuba and has identified the most vulnerable in the neighborhood, one of the poorest in New York. 

“The desire to save lives, as a humanist above all else, are values that I brought with me from Cuba . . .”

“That includes the elderly, people who have infants and small children, homebound people, people with multiple morbidities and are really susceptible to a virus like this one,” she said.

“The desire to save lives, as a humanist above all else, are values that I brought with me from Cuba, from my training as a doctor in a country that knows solidarity,” she continued.

The U.S. government, in its eagerness to demonize Cuba, has managed to get nations like Brazil and Bolivia to close their doors to Cuban medicine.

“On such sad days, I am filled with optimism knowing that Cuba has sent medical brigades to Italy, Surinam, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Jamaica, Grenada and others. Few countries help as much, and know as much about medical assistance in disaster situations as Cuba,” she said.

Today Melissa Barber saves lives in New York, as she did in Cuba. She helps and supports other young doctors, just as she was helped by Cuban health professionals more than a decade ago.

Solidarity and love for one’s neighbors are the strong feelings that unite Havana and the Bronx, challenging the blockade.

Granma International news staff can be reached at This story first appeared at