All 28,268 members of Cuba’s 61 medical brigades working abroad are free of the coronavirus, reports Dr. Jorge Hidalgo Bustillo, director of the Medical Collaboration Central Unit
March 17 (Granma) For those who love their family members and their compatriots, the spreading Covid-19 pandemic is cause for alarm, given the risk faced by the more than 28,000 Cuban health workers serving on missions around the world.
But it seems that their solidarity and internationalist vocation has been, thus far, a moral repellent.
According to information provided by Dr. Jorge Hidalgo Bustillo, director of the Central Unit for Medical Collaboration (UCCM), all 28,268 members of Cuba’s medical brigades working in 61countries, around the world, remain free of the virus, to date.
Given the situation, the center is maintaining close contact with brigade leaders via video conferences, and provides a report on the health of doctors and technicians which is updated daily. “There is permanent communication, as has historically been done, and we have here, at the UCCM, a command post that works 24 hours a day,” Dr. Hidalgo reported.
Of the countries where Cuban medical brigades are present, he said, Qatar, Algeria, China, South Africa and Kuwait have cases of infection within their populations, but added, “Our personnel is well protected, and has not had contact with the sick patients.”
He said that communication is also maintained with health directorates in brigade members’ home provinces, to keep family and loved ones informed of their health.
Confirming this reality were heads of medical missions in Haiti, Guatemala, Algeria, South Africa and Qatar, who interacted with the press via video telephone calls to describe the health condition of their respective teams, and precautions being taken.
From Guatemala, mission leader Dr. Yuri Batista Varela stated that the 441 collaborators there were healthy, following protocols established by the nation’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance. He stressed that, of the members of the delegation, 57% are considered to be at high risk since they are over 59 years of age and have chronic diseases.
“Today we have 14 epidemiologists on the team, who will perform the task of caring for suspected patients. We have a national referral hospital, located in Guatemala City, with a capacity of 200 beds for the care of the most serious cases,” he added.
Dr. Batista pointed out that Cuban personnel have the necessary resources to prevent contagion, including face masks, disinfectant solutions and medicines, and attention has been increased for the 24 brigade members serving in locations along the border. He noted that the country has sufficient supplies to handle test samples in the capital city laboratory.
In Haiti, Dr. Luis Olivero Serrano described the experiences of Cubans in this sister country, which is vulnerable due to its weak health infrastructure, and permeable border with the Dominican Republic, which has reported several Covid-19 cases.
He stated that the 345 Cuban healthcare professionals – three on vacation – who provide services in the needy country are meeting their responsibilities without interruption, and that relevant measures are taken to prevent contagion. Dr. Olivero added that updated training on Covid-19 has been provided; all brigade members have protective resources; and that security protocols are followed for those who travel to Cuba.
On the other side of the world, in Qatar, where the 499 members of the Cuban medical mission work in a single hospital, brigade chief Dr. Ernesto Lopez Cruz, reported that, within the country’s population, several cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, and there is also concern given the situation in neighboring nations such as Iran.
“A policy has been designed here for contingency plans. The sick are kept in a quarantine center with all the appropriate conditions. Our hospital has five rooms with negative pressure – for cases of infectious diseases – which would be used if necessary,” he said.
From South Africa, another of the countries reporting the existence of Covid-19, Dr. Reynaldo Denis de Armas, in charge of 216 Cuban medical brigade members, reported that one coronavirus patient is being treated at the hospital where three of our doctors work, but they are not in danger of infection.
In Algeria, the country where Fidel first began our efforts to offer solidarity around the world through Cuban medicine, the head of the brigade, Dr. Reinaldo Menendez Garcia, stated that the 891 brigade members providing services in 47 health centers are healthy and not involved in the Covid-19 cases reported to date.
“None of our staff members have respiratory symptoms, or any suspicious signs of infection,” he said, and in a completely natural tone added: “We’re good!” •