HAVANA: Cuba’s contribution of hundreds of doctors and nurses to fight Ebola puts the island at the forefront of the international response and is even thawing relations with a sworn enemy the United States.
Despite its small population and strapped economy, Cuba has sent 165 medical professionals to Sierra Leone, a larger contingent than most Western countries.
A further 91 Cuban doctors and nurses are to begin work shortly in Liberia and Guinea, and Cuba has pledged to send more than 200 others.
The island’s response to the epidemic, which has killed more than 4,500 people in west Africa, has won plaudits from humanitarian workers who say the international community’s reaction has otherwise been lacking.
“The international response has been slow…. The virus is spreading faster than we’re all setting up,” said Sean Casey, director of the International Medical Corps’s emergency response team in Liberia, where Cuban advance teams have been laying the groundwork for the new medical team’s arrival.
“It’s good that the Cubans are coming. We need more countries to step up,” he told AFP.
Cuba’s contribution has also won plaudits on the international stage — even in the United States, where Cold War bitterness toward the island still lingers, more than 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the severing of diplomatic ties.
US Secretary of State John Kerry paid Cuba a rare compliment last week, singling out the country for its “impressive” response to Ebola.
Kerry, whose country has pledged 4,000 troops to combat the disease by far the largest international contingent pleaded for greater mobilization against the epidemic.
“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.