Top: Cuban medical team leaving for West Africa
Beneath: Arrival in Sierra Leone
Beneath: Arrival in Sierra Leone
The magnificent Cuban response to the Ebola crisis is in a class of its own. While Western nations pledge funds to fight the disease there is a reluctance to step up and send needed medical personnel. Cuba by contrast has gone into action on the front lines. It will send some 461 doctors and nurses to West Africa - the largest number of medical personnel from any nation. One hundred and sixty five Cuban medics are already in West Africa setting up operations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published the following update on the Cuban contribution:
The Cuban team consists of 100 nurses, 50 doctors, 3 epidemiologists, 3 intensive care specialists, 3 infection control specialist nurses and 5 social mobilization officers, all overseen by epidemiologist Dr Jorge Juan Delgado Bustillo.
All of the Cuban health workers have more than 15 years’ experience and have worked in other countries facing natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Some of the workers have already been working in Sierra Leone and Guinea for some years and are willing to continue their service there.
In related news, on October 20 a special Summit dealing with the Ebola crisis convened in Havana. It included member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP). A 23-point statement was approved that you can read here.
ALBA-TCP received a special letter of thanks from Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization - here.
This exceptional medical response by Cuba in the face of the Ebola threat is by no means unusual. Since the 1950's Cuba has dispatched medical teams to many countries around the world dealing with disease and natural disasters. Following the 2004 Asian tsunami Cuba dispatched medical teams to Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh. A mission was also sent to Pakistan after the earthquake in Kashmir (2005) and to Haiti in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in that country. Cuban medical teams provided a desperately needed service. Their work also extended to the training of Haitian doctors.
President Raúl Castro sees off Cuban medics headed for W. Africa
The West African nations that are struggling to contain the Ebola crisis are ill-equipped to deal with current challenges. They lack medical infrastructure and personnel equal to the task. The lack of adequate public healthcare in these countries speaks to a world capitalist system that supports privatized solutions - tiered levels of care that go from top-notch care for the wealthy to disgracefully underfunded and neglected public hospitals that cater to the majority.
In an interview with Tariq Ali that appeared in Counterpunch, Allyson Pollock - a UK professor of public health research and policy - makes a number of key points about the vital importance of public health systems when confronting a crisis of this sort and the damaging impact of the private for-profit medical sector.
NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have no democratic base, no accountability and which in turn are doing untold harm through their vertical disease programmes because they are not rooted in public health and the public health systems. And a good example of a vertical disease programme is when you take Ebola and then you bring in your operation to tackle Ebola and you ignore all the other causes of disease, such as TB or malaria, or poverty, malnutrition and at the same time when you focus all the efforts of the industry on vaccine development.
... Now I’m not saying we don’t need vaccines, but one of the big problems is that vaccine development itself is now in the hands of these large very powerful foundations like NGOs, like GAVI – the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative... vaccines mean mass immunisation, it means numbers and numbers mean money. And of course it is being paid for by the West and Western governments when this money could much more easily flow into the governments themselves to re-build their health systems because we are talking about re-building public health infrastructure and that includes putting in community primary health care, community health systems, infection control units at community level, putting in hospitals and training nurses and doctors. And the big, other big problem in all of these countries is not just a brain-drain, because a few doctors and nurses are there, they want to leave and that is happening also in Nigeria, or they want to work in the private sector or they want to work for these NGOs because the money is much better and so the whole public health system is completely hollowed out. And this is a real problem because the Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates, do not believe in the public sector, they do not believe in a democratic, publically owned, publically accountable [system].
Read the full interview here.
The United States with its GDP of $17.3 trillion (as opposed to Cuba's GDP at $72.3 billion) has a history of exploitative for-profit medicine practiced on the back of its people, not to mention the greed-driven profiteering of big pharma. By contrast much 'poorer' Cuba has steadfastly upheld the political and moral priority of healthcare as an intrinsic right for its citizens and by extension, the citizens of other countries in times of need. It speaks volumes that Cuba is the country that is putting its medical personnel on-the-line at this critical time for the world community.