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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 06:20 GMT 07:20 UK
Cuba-trained US doctors graduate
Wing Wu, Carmen Landau and Jose de Leon, newly graduated from Cuba's Latin American Medical School (24 July, 2007)
Students were offered tuition, textbooks and accommodation
Eight US students have graduated from a Cuban medical school after completing a six-year study programme funded by the country's communist government.

The eight came to Cuba as part of a deal agreed between President Fidel Castro and members of Washington's Congressional Black Caucus.

Under the plan, Cuba offers students from deprived backgrounds full scholarships, including accommodation.

They are meant to return to the US to offer low-cost healthcare.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says the stories of the six medical students are something of a propaganda coup with Cuba.

Hearts and minds

Cuba's vice president Carlos Lage and other Cuban leaders attended a graduation ceremony for the students at Havana's Karl Marx theatre.

"We get everything from books, even uniforms. But the conditions are that we go back to our communities, wherever we're needed, and we provide healthcare and that's what we really want to do, so we're actually looking forward to it," Evelyn Erickson, a graduate from New York told the BBC.

According to the Cuban authorities, more than 80 young US students are currently receiving training at the Latin American Medical School in Havana, whose qualifications are recognised by the World Health Organization.

Cuba's free healthcare system has been a key foreign policy tool for winning hearts and minds in the developing world, our correspondent says.

The government has sent tens of thousands of Cuban doctors abroad to help some of the world's poorest communities.

It also trains large numbers of foreign doctors on the island.

According to the official newspaper, Granma, there are currently more than 5,000 medical students from 25 countries studying in Cuba.

Medical students' graduation ceremony

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