HAVANA: Cuba has become the largest single provider of healthcare workers to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the small Caribbean nation has contributed more than the Red Cross or richer countries.
“Cuba has provided the numbers and the people,” said Jose Luis Di Fabio, the WHO representative in Cuba. “There are more human resources from Cuba than from many NGOs (non-governmental organizations) 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,” said the Cuban Ambassador to Liberia, Jorge Lefebre Nicolas.
Cuba’s response to the epidemic has been lauded by humanitarian agencies, as well as its long-time foes in the U.S.
“The international response has been slow,” said Sean Casey, director of the International Medical Corps’ emergency response team in Liberia. “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.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Cuba for its 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.
U.S. officials announced that they were happy to be cooperating with Cuba.
“We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Cuba to confront the Ebola outbreak,” said a state department source. “Cuba is making significant contributions by sending hundreds of health workers to Africa. In that spirit, the U.S. 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 U.S.-Cuba relations was also demonstrated by an article by Fidel Castro in state media announcing that his country would “gladly cooperate with American personnel” on Ebola. The sentiment was reiterated 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.