Cuban cigars are not the only export from Cuba. Cuba has another important export that the world doesn’t know about. Its the Cuban health professionals!
On 23rd March Cuba deployed a team of doctors and nurses to Italy, to aid health care professionals with the COVID-19 outbreak. They were sent to Italy’s worst affected region, Lombardy. This is the eight international aid mission that Cuba has done in an effort to provide to aid regions affected by epidemics and natural disasters. They were front and centre in providing health care during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Cholera in Haiti, and now Coronavirus in Italy. It has also sent teams of its “armies of white robbed warriors” to Venezuela, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Suriname, and Granada.
Leonardo Fernandez, an intensive care specialist, told Reuters late on Saturday shortly before his brigade’s departure- “We are all afraid but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfil, so we take out fear and put it to one side,”.
There were 52 specialists, with 36 doctors, 15 nurses, and a logistics specialist. Doctors from Cuba received standing ovation when they arrived at the airport in Milan, Italy.
Doctors from Cuba arrive in Italy to help the fight against Covid-19.
This is what humanity and solidarity looks like. 😭
Please keep these heroes, their families, and loved ones in your prayers 🙏🏽🤲🏽❤️ pic.twitter.com/idNnom8sXS
— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) March 22, 2020
Cuba has also sent supplies of Interferon 2b to Italy, Venezuela, and Panama to help combat the outbreak. The drug has effectively helped in curing more than 1500 patients of the virus, in China. The drug has been developed by the Cuban biotech industry, it is shown to boost the immune system, and has proved effective in combating previous epidemics like dengue fever and HIV/AIDS. Cuba’s contribution to the fight against coronavirus has been phenomenal and the demand for Cuba’s aid in battling the virus has been increasing.
Cuban doctors are also going to be sent to Belize. Belize saw its first case a few days ago and immediately declared a state of emergency. Belize’s health care system is not well equipped to deal with the virus and has reached out for help from Cuba.
Cuban medical internationalism
Cuba has been sending medical personnel overseas as part of its international solidarity and humanitarian ventures after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Cuba provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all the G8 countries combined. The Cuban missions have had a substantial positive local impact on the populations served. has 42,000 workers in international collaborations in 103 different countries, of whom more than 30,000 are health personnel, including no fewer than 19,000 physicians.
The programme was initiated in 1963 as part of Cuba’s foreign policy of supporting anti-colonial struggles in Algeria, where French medical professionals had withdrawn during the independence struggle. Cuban doctors have worked in African countries like Guinea-Bissau during its independence war against Portugal and in Angola as well.
From 1963 to 2004, Cuba was involved in the creation of nine medical faculties in Yemen, Guyana, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda, Ghana, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Haiti.
Cuban medical missions were sent to other countries in Latin America like Honduras, Guatemala, and Haiti following 1998’s Hurricane Mitch and Hurricane Georges.
Cuba’s medical aid to Pacific countries has been two-pronged, consisting of sending doctors to Oceania, and in providing scholarships for Pacific students to study medicine in Cuba at Cuba’s expense.
Cuban commitment and Solidarity
Transatlantic British cruise ship MS Braemar, was carrying 682 people on board, several of them showed symptoms of COVID-19 and were kept in isolation was stranded in the Caribbean since the last week of February. The ship was not allowed to dock at ports of several Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic. The UK reached out to the US and to Cuba to help find a suitable port for MS Braemer. Unsurprisingly, the US refused to let the ship dock on its ports. Trump’s xenophobia and the need to keep people in need out of the US are well known. Cuba allowed the ship to be docked at its port.
According to an official statement, Cuba allowed the ship to dock “due to the urgency of the situation and the risk to the lives of sick people.” “These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice of the Cuban Revolution and our people,” added the statement. Passengers who were healthy were sent back to their home countries and the others were given treatment in Cuban hospitals.
“Thank you, Cuba that you could open your hearts to us. We will never ever forget that you reached out to us when absolutely nobody, and I mean nobody, else would,” Anthea Guthrie, a passenger aboard the ship, wrote on Facebook. “I trust we will never ever forget the help we’ve had from a poor country with a brave, huge heart.”
Cuban pandemic control at home
There are 40 cases in Cuba and 1 death. Cuba started its lockdown a little before the first case was discovered. It took an ‘all-hands-on-board’ approach and responded swiftly to the threat. Cuba has put 30,000 people in quarantine (at their respective homes) and there have been constant check-ups by teams of doctors. Cuba is well known for its well-developed health care system, medical research, and training and providing scholarships for medical research. The Cuban health care system is public and thus the government is entirely responsible for ensuring the safety of its citizens.
According to sources Cuba’s resources are going to be strained during this time. A part of the reason for this is that the Trump Administration has levied sanctions against Cuba. Cuba is being instrumental in curbing the violence and amidst this has to face the brunt of the sanctions of the US. Shipping contracts that carry supplies to Cuba are blocked and harassed by the US on regular basis. These sanctions hurt the Cuban economy and might incapacitate them. “The great paradox is that while the ships contracted by Cuba to carry oil and food are harassed by the United States, the ships carrying the sick that nobody wants in their ports receive solidarity and respect in Cuba,” Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde wrote in the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada.