Cuba makes efforts to face Ebola threat

Fidel Castro, former Cuban president, has appealed to the US to set aside its differences with Cuba for fight against the virus

Muralidharan Vishwanath | October 28, 2014



It is rare for an American  daily to heap praise on Cuba and rarer still for a US secretary of state to acknowledge the contribution made by the socialist Cuba. But this is exactly what has happened.  Fifty five years after the Cuban revolution and decades of the callous and cruel economic embargo and sanctions against the tiny island-nation, lying just a few hundred kilometers off the US coast, the New York Times has called upon the Obama administration for restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.

These observations in the NYT’s October 19 editorial come in the wake of the massive efforts that Cuba has made in the global effort to contain the Ebola virus from spreading.  Secretary of state John Kerry too was compelled to acknowledge Cuba’s response in the wake of wide media coverage to Cuban efforts in this regard.  In contrast to the US, which is just committing funds to fight the spread of the virus, it is Cuba that has had the courage to send its medical personnel – doctors and paramedics to the affected countries, at the risk of their own lives.  This despite reports that more than 400 medical personnel have already been infected. The virus has also reached the United States and Europe, amid fears that the epidemic could soon spread globally.

Fidel Castro, former Cuban president has appealed to the US to set aside its differences with Cuba for the fight against the virus. In a write-up in the Granma, Castro said: “We will gladly cooperate with U.S. personnel in this job, though not in the search of peace between our two countries who have been enemies for years. In any case, we will work for the peace in the world”. He further added, “By sending Cuban doctors and nurses to Africa we are protecting our people, and our Latin American and Caribbean brothers. We are also preventing its expansion, because unfortunately it has already arrived in the United States,” he said.

Cuba takes pride in its excellent healthcare system and has always rendered help to countries in need of medical assistance. It has had its doctors and nurses serve in Angola during their liberation struggle. Since 1960, Cuba has sent 135,000 health workers overseas.  Currently it is estimated that 50,000 medical professionals are working in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia. Cuban doctors and paramedics are also rendering services in Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia. Cuba had even offered help to the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, only to be flatly refused. Cuba has now sent medical teams to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The island-nation proposes to send 460 medical professionals, comprising of doctors and nurses, who will work under the World Health Organization. Of these, 165 have already reached Sierra Leone, while another 52-member team of doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, intensive care specialists, general practitioners, surgeons, pediatricians, intensive care nurses, anesthetists and licensed nurses will land in Liberia today.

As opposed to the magnificent Cuban response, the Obama administration has just pledged to spend $400 million to build a dozen hospitals.

The outbreak has already claimed the lives of more than 4,500 people, most of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, thanked Cuba for its efforts. She was in Havana to attend an extraordinary meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Peoples Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) organised to address the threat posed by the Ebola virus.

The ALBA-TCP meeting in Havana on October 20, adopted a resolution expressing profound concern about the “humanitarian catastrophe in West Africa caused by the Ebola epidemic, which is been considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a ‘public health emergency’ of international concern, with the threat of spreading to other countries and regions of the world”. Countries attending the meeting pledged to coordinate efforts to prevent and deal with the Ebola epidemic, including “rapidly providing and sharing assistance among our countries, with healthcare workers and relevant supplies and materials."

A technical meeting of specialists and directors of ALBA-TCP countries will be held in Havana, on October 29 and 30, to “exchange experiences and knowledge, as well as to draft prevention and control strategies for the threat of the Ebola epidemic”. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has meanwhile donated a sum of five million dollars to the UN to combat Ebola.

 Vishwanath is a social activist and writer

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