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Ebola – International Medical Aid: Cuba Leads The Way

October 20, 2014
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Cuban (you read corrrectly) medical teams preparing to help bury Ebola victims in West Africa

Cuban (you read correctly) medical teams preparing to help bury Ebola victims in West Africa

So far the Ebola virus has effected exactly three people in the United States. Yet there is so little coverage these days about the Ebola outbreak where it is actually taking place – in West Africa, Sierre Leone, Guinea, Liberia or the fact that the health services in Senegal and Nigeria the outbreak has been contained.  Instead we read election-produced scare tactics of the few cases that are emerging in the USA with Republicans having triggered a national fear crisis in hopes that this will help them over the top in the upcoming mid-term elections in a few weeks. As usual, the Democratic response to this cynical public relations campaign, is tepid…if that.

Although the United States has considerable medical resources to fight such an epidemic, that the Ebola virus could spread, follow a global path like that of the AIDS virus 40 years ago, is not at all impossible. Much depends right now on stemming the disease’s spread in Africa before it reaches even greater epidemic proportions there and moves aggressively beyond the continent.

Shutting our country’s borders – which seems to be the way the United States deals with many international problems – might have “public relations value” that play on fear, but medical authorities point out it is a rather useless tactic in putting out the Ebola fire. That requires, to use too oft-repeated term – boots on the ground…medical boots that is. It is only in recent weeks that a major shift to transfer more human resources to the region has started to take place while thousands have died in the three countries including hundreds of medical workers.

In Sierre Leone, the news continues to be grim, at least 1200 killed, probably an understatement. Region-wide now the number of infected has reached 10,000. The World Health Organization estimates that 70% of those will probably die. The disease is far from having been contained and continues to spread. As it does, the lackluster foreign effort to combat it continues to grow as the potential for the crisis to spread that much further intensifies. And grow it will underlining the urgent need for a coordinated global campaign targeting West Africa to contain its spread and hopefully eliminate it. No country alone, to say nothing of those directly affected by the Ebola crisis, can overcome the virus by itself.

Both the United States, Britain and other countries have started to dramatically increase their commitment in terms of personnel and equipment. For example, in August, Britain announced it would set up a hospital with space for 300 beds; in recent days, they have announced that now they will provide for 4000 beds for Ebola patients within a month. This past week the United States also upped its commitment. After a stingy initial commitment, the Obama Administration has greatly increased both its financial and human pledges promising $400 million in aid and a pledge to send some 4,000 troops to the region to help with the logistics of fighting the growing plague. Up until now Washington’s contribution was limited to 65 uniformed officers from the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, as reported in The Wall Street Journal

Perhaps “(not so) great powers” like the United States and Britain have been embarrassed, if not shamed into upping their ante by Cuba’s effort? According to the Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 15, 2014), Havana announced that it would immediately dispatch 165 health workers to Sierre Leone to deal with the Ebola outbreak. A few days later, Cuba announced that it would send 296 doctors and nurses to ailing Liberia as well. These medical delegations are, apparently, only the beginning, a small percentage of those Cuban medical workers who have said they too are willing to go.

While the media here in the United States celebrates the precious few medical personnel here willing to lay their lives on the line for others, in Cuba there seems to be quite a different attitude towards addressing the Ebola crisis. While Cuba too is taking health precautions, its main concern appears to be how to give concrete aid to the people of West Africa suffering from the outbreak. It should also be noted, that while underfunded due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis caused by 64 years of U.S. imposed sanctions that Cuba has one of the few tropical medicine research centers anywhere.

Imagine! A country that thinks beyond its own national interests, and it appears to have, all the propaganda against it aside, a genuine spirit of empathy, solidarity for their fellow African human beings. Now novel! As the same article notes. “Cuban state media reports that some 15,000 health professionals have expressed an interest in traveling to West African nations to help.” For those who would argue that all this is little more than a Castro propaganda stunt, it might be pointed out that Cuba has a long history of providing medical aid to countries in need. As the same Christian Science Monitor article points out:

Soon after its revolution, Cuba sent doctors to Chile to help the nation recover from a deadly 1960 earthquake.
• Cuba sent 2,500 health workers to Pakistan after an earthquake in 2005.
• 1,500 Cuban health professionals traveled to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake.
• Some 30,000 Cubans currently work in Venezuela’s health system; Cuba is partially paid in oil for its contribution.
• An estimated 4,500 Cuban doctors are currently (2014)supplementing Brazil’s public health system in rural parts of the country or undesirable city neighborhoods.

Another recent article, this one in The Nation magazine (Oct. 15, 2014) adds more perspective to Cuba’s medical contribution to poor countries in need.

“Havana’s been sending healthcare workers to Africa since the early 1960s, staffing clinics and training medical faculties, including in Guinea-Bissau, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea. When white doctors fled South Africa after the end of apartheid, Cuba stepped in. According to one report, Cuba in 2007 had 30,000 healthcare professionals, including 19,000 doctors, working in over 103 countries.”

Addressing this health crisis, thus, it is Cuba, more than any country that has shown the way. Let us hope that the nations of the rest of the world follow, for this is one crisis, like global warming,  that will require a major international effort in which no one country, large or small, will be able to resolve the issue on its own.

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Links:

Ebola: From Whence The Ebola Virus?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2014 4:20 am

    Reblogged this on Piazza della Carina.

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