Cuba now biggest single medical force in African Ebola battle

HAVANA, Cuba, Monday October 27, 2014 – Cuba has distinguished itself on the world stage by becoming the biggest single provider of healthcare workers to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the relatively small Caribbean country has contributed more than the Red Cross or richer nations.

“Cuba has provided the numbers and the people,” said Jose Luis Di Fabio, the WHO representative on the communist Caribbean island.

“There are more human resources from Cuba than from many, many NGOs [non-governmental organisations] put together.”

Cuba’s large-scale deployment of medical staff to fight the devastating West African Ebola epidemic continued last week with 91 Cuban doctors and nurses arriving in Liberia and Guinea.

Cuba has already deployed 165 medical workers to Sierra Leone, bringing its total presence in the three countries to 256.

Havana has pledged more health professionals to combat the deadly disease than any other government, with 461 Cuban doctors and nurses receiving specialist training for the mission to the affected countries.

The epidemic has killed well over 5,000 people and infected thousands more in West Africa, with the Red Cross, which is trying to tackle Ebola in Sierra Leone, saying the scale of the outbreak is so vast that it is now retrieving at least 100 corpses daily.

“We cannot see our brothers from Africa in difficult times and remain there with our arms folded,” the Cuban Ambassador to Liberia, Jorge Lefebre Nicolas, told Reuters news agency.

Cuba’s rapid and generous response to the killer epidemic has been lauded by humanitarian agencies, as well as its longstanding foes in Washington.

“The international response has been slow … The virus is spreading faster than we’re all setting up.
It’s good that the Cubans are coming. We need more countries to step up,” Sean Casey, director of the International Medical Corps’ emergency response team in Liberia told the French news agency AFP.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry broke the ice of decades of frosty relations with the communist state when he praised Cuba for its “impressive” efforts to tackle Ebola.

“Cuba, a country of just 11 million people, has sent 165 health professionals and it plans to send nearly 300 more,” he told foreign diplomats in Washington.

US officials went on to say that they were happy to be cooperating with Havana.

“We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Cuba to confront the Ebola outbreak. Cuba is making significant contributions by sending hundreds of health workers to Africa,” a state department source told AFP.

“In that spirit, the US department of state is communicating with all members of the international community, including Cuba, involved in this global effort through multilateral channels such as the World Health Organisation as well as diplomatic briefings.”

The apparent thawing of icy relations was also demonstrated by an article by Fidel Castro in state media announcing that Cuba would “gladly cooperate with American personnel” on Ebola. The sentiment was echoed a few days later by his brother, Raúl, who succeeded him as Cuba’s president eight years ago.

Since 1960, Cuba has sent 135,000 health workers overseas for emergency response or to work in under-served communities. Cuba has 50,000 doctors and nurses working in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to the health ministry.

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