East Timor celebrates medical milestone, with Cuba's assistance

By Lisa Zilberpriver 

December 27, 2011 -- SBS (Special Broadcasting Service, Australia) -- Cuba is widely regarded as a world leader in medical outreach programs for developing nations. It began by sending doctors to support Algerian revolutionaries in 1963, and has since extended its programme to encompass more than 100 different countries.

There are more than 30,000 Cuban health workers stationed worldwide. The Cuban government also pays for the education of thousands of students from developing nations at the Latin American School of Medicine.

Tim Anderson is a senior lecturer in political economy at the Univeristy of Sydney. He has closely followed Cuba's medical outreach programs for several years. He hosted an East Timorese graduate of Cuba's program on a visit to Sydney health institutions in October that was organised by the Australia Cuba Friendship Society.

He says Australia and Cuba have both shown a willingness to work together in the Pacific region, but that it may not be as easy as it sounds. "They've been talking for about two years now and I think there's goodwill on both sides which is the most important thing, but of course, Cuba and Australia have very different systems, and there are some difficulties in adjusting to those systems, so I think the talks are going to have go on for a little while still.

However, Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles -- who is brokering the plan for Cuban-Australian cooperation -- says any obstacles encountered will be small. Marles says Australia hopes to make the most of Cuba's world-renowned expertise in providing medical aid and education in developing nations.

Watch the whole interview with Tim Anderson: