Cuba/Belize: MDs care for over 1 million

A medical brigade of 103 Cuban doctors has cared for over 1,257,000 patients in the Central American country of Belize during the last five years, Granma International said earlier this month. In the last year alone, the Cubans cared for nearly 400,000 patients.

The Cuban health team has been in Belize since 1998. The Cuban doctors work in every district including remote rural areas where health services have never been provided.

A new agreement between Cuba and Belize not only provides for continued work by the medical brigade, but also provides for Cuban experts to work with a literacy program and Spanish classes via the mass media.

Some 160 Belizean students are studying at Cuban universities, including the Latin American School of Medicine.

Finland: Paper workers locked out

Following the May 14 failure of talks with employers, thousands of Finnish paper workers held a two-day strike last week, closing 40 paper mills and 14 board mills in the country. Employers responded by declaring a lockout and threatening to keep plants shut until an agreement is reached.

With two of the world’s largest papermakers affected, and the possible spread of the strike to Sweden, supply problems seemed likely in Europe and the UK.

National conciliator Juhani Salonius, who mediated the talks, said the biggest disagreements concerned the use of temporary employees, and production breaks during national holidays. The paper workers union said workers wanted to be compensated for extra work with more free time, rather than with money as the employers proposed.

Other unions including the Central Trade Union organization backed the strike and raised the possibility of solidarity actions. Swedish paper workers declared a two-day ban on overtime work in solidarity with the Finnish strike and were said to be considering a possible strike.

China:Move to end forced confessions

Chinese law enforcement agencies are taking new measures to eliminate the forcing of confessions by police, People’s Daily said last week. The new measures followed the release last month of She Xianglin, who spent 11 years in jail for allegedly murdering his wife. The supposedly dead woman recently reappeared.

After his release, She Xianglin told reporters that police had tortured him by not letting him sleep for 10 days, and finally made him leave his fingerprint on documents that said an unidentifiable female body was his wife and that he had murdered her. Mr. She is now seeking compensation for his ordeal.

At a meeting last week, top law enforcement officials decided to set up a system to probe and prevent use of forced confessions, including requiring prosecutors to carefully ask the suspect about possible forced confessions, and examination of police records for signs of forced confessions.

South Africa: HIV/AIDS leading cause of death

HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in South Africa, according to a new Medical Research Council report, the UN’s IRIN news agency said last week.

The report, “Estimates of Provincial Mortality,” found that while overall rates and causes of death differed, AIDS was the number one cause in all provinces except the Western Cape.

In Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, AIDS accounted for one-third of all deaths in 2000, while in the eastern province of Kwazulu-Natal, the figure was 42 percent. The Research Council said the free provision of nevirapine to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and the start of the national treatment program, should slow the increase in death rates, but cautioned that in the years since 2000, deaths due to AIDS had probably increased.

Australia: University unions set Day of Action

Higher education unions will cooperate on a June 1 National Day of Action to protest the federal government’s plan to cut public universities’ budgets by $210 million unless their managements agree to harsh changes in workplace relations, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) announced May 14.

NTEU said the government seeks to remove limits on casual employment, roll back staff working conditions, and require universities to offer all staff Australian Workplace Agreements that override existing collective agreements.

The union said it was bringing together a broad coalition of groups affected by the government’s proposals, including other unions and student groups, and indicated there might be strikes at some universities.

“Universities are independent institutions,” said NTEU General Secretary Grahame McCulloch. “While they need to be broadly accountable, they should not be subject to excessive government interference and should have the right to determine their own arrangements with their own staff.”

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (