HAVANA: A Cuban doctor treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the virus, becoming the first Caribbean national known to have contracted the deadly disease.
Dr. Felix Baez, a specialist in internal medicine, is one of 165 Cuban medical professionals who have been treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone since early October.
The doctors and nurses stationed in Sierra Leone are part of a Cuban contingent of 256 medical volunteers deployed in West Africa to help combat the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak, that claimed the lives of over 5,000 people.
Another 53 Cuban medical professionals are stationed in Liberia, and 38 are currently serving in Guinea.
A further 205 Cuban medics have completed training in preparation for deployment to the West African countries worst-hit by the killer virus.
Dr. Baez, 43, had a fever on November 16 and tested positive for Ebola the following day after being taken to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, according to Cuba’s official website Cubadebate, which was citing a health ministry statement.
He has not shown complications and is “hemodynamically stable”, the statement said.
Baez, who was treated at a Red Cross centre near Freetown before being flown to Geneva, Switzerland, is currently being treated with the experimental medication known as Zimapp, which has shown promising results in treating Ebola patients.
Cuba’s response to the epidemic in West Africa has been lauded internationally as more substantial than contributions from many wealthy countries. Among those praising Cuba have been its longstanding foes in the U.S.
Cuba has practiced “medical diplomacy” via its “ejercito de batas blancas” (army of white coats) since Fidel Castro came to power in the 1959 revolution. Fellow revolutionary and medical doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, is credited with providing much of the inspiration for the international medical initiative.
While Cuba provides free disaster relief around the world, it also routinely trades the services of doctors for cash or goods. The country receives an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil daily from Venezuela where some 30,000 Cuban medical professionals are posted.
Since 1960, Cuba has sent 135,000 health workers overseas for emergency response or to work in under-served communities. At present, the country has more than 50,000 doctors and nurses in 67 countries, according to the health ministry.