The outbreak of an Ebola epidemic in West Africa over 2014 has exposed the virtual collapse of public health systems in many African countries affected and the paralysis if the wealthy west to be able to mount a response in time to prevent the outbreak killing tens of thousands and possibly millions.
In contrast revolutionary Cuba and its medical internationalism has emerged as an example to the world of what is possible when ethics replaces cold calculation and has forced the world to acknowledge a debt to that small island nation of just 11.2 million people who are now the front guard of the fight to stop the spread of the virus.
Medicine San Frontiers had been virtually alone in warning the world since at least March this year of the spreading disaster. They had 248 international volunteers and around 3000 locals they had trained to combat the disease. Cuba has sent 256 medical personnel with another 205 to go soon. They serve a minimum of six months. “While consultants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are lodged in Radisson Blu resort,—at more than $200 a night—the 165 Cuban medics are living three to a room in one of Freetown’s budget hotels,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Cuba’s single country contribution of trained doctors and nurses dwarfs that of any other single country. Those sent so far are from 15,000 trained Cubans who had volunteered to go. Cuba has a pool of health professionals without equal in the world. The Guardian reported the ethical outlook motivating the Cubans:
Speaking before they flew to Liberia, two Cuban doctors told Reuters that competition to join the west African mission – which attracted 15,000 volunteers – had been fierce.
“There have been fights breaking out, heated arguments, with some doctors asking, ‘How come my colleague gets to go and I can’t?’,” said Dr Adrian Benítez. His colleague Leonardo Fernández said the volunteers had felt compelled to help. “We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand. We know what can happen. We know we’re going to a hostile environment,” he said. “But it is our duty. That’s how we’ve been educated.”
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