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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Cuba to create doctors' brigade
By Fernando Ravsberg
BBC Mundo, Havana

Cuban President Fidel Castro at a doctors' graduation ceremony
Fidel Castro expects hundreds of new doctors to join
Cuba's president has announced the creation of an international medical brigade to assist countries affected by natural disasters or serious epidemics.

It would initially be formed by the 1,500 doctors Cuba offered the US after Hurricane Katrina, Fidel Castro said.

The brigade has been named Henry Reeve, in honour of a US doctor who fought in Cuba's independence war.

The doctors must have epidemiological knowledge, speak two languages and be in good physical condition.

The brigade is expected to be 3,300-strong as recently graduated doctors and students in their final years join.

They would assist any country that faced severe problems from hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters, President Castro said at a doctors' graduation ceremony.

He added that the brigade could be used in the fight against epidemics.

If developed countries decided to fight HIV in Africa they would need doctors prepared to work under those conditions, he said.

The Cuban president said the US had not replied to his offer to send 1,500 doctors to the US. "It hurts to think about it, but maybe some of those desperate people, surrounded by water and on the verge of death, could have been saved," he said.

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