Letters & Opinion

Cuba Leads Fight Against Ebola – Doctor In The Frontlines In West Africa

By Earl Bousquet
By Earl Bousquet

CUBA’S recent dispatch of an army of medical doctors to West Africa to wage battle against Ebola is more than just a goodwill gesture. It’s a supreme sacrifice that (once again) underlines the international character of the Cuban Revolution.

Throughout its 55 years under the Castro brothers, Cuba has consistently stood by Africa. After the Cuban Revolution triumphed, Che Guevara gave up ministerial power in Havana and headed to the Congo. Two decades later, Cuba dispatched thousands of soldiers to Southern Africa to help defend then gains by the Black Liberation Armies. Cuban soldiers also trained many of the new armies that followed the end of Apartheid and Minority Rule in Southern Africa.

But it’s not only soldiers who have been flying from Cuba to Africa. In the past five decades too, tens of thousands of Africans have also been educated and trained in Cuba, readied to return home to help build their newly-liberated countries. South Sudanese professionals returned home from Havana before and after their homeland’s recent independence. It’s the same elsewhere in Africa, with Cuban doctors and nurses spread throughout hospitals, helping and caring for people historically neglected, denied or forgotten by the rest of the world.

Cuba dispatched its latest medical army to battle Ebola in Africa, knowing that (as in any war) not all will return. But, as President Raul Castro emphasized recently, it’s the type of sacrifice Cuba is ready and willing to make for the sake of Africa — and humanity.

Many are still amazed that “little Cuba” can be leading the Ebola fight in Africa in a bigger way than the leading western nations. Many western nations are still dodging the bullet when it comes to dispatching doctors and medical equipment to the front line in Africa.

What many still don’t fully realize, though, is that this small Caribbean country has consistently climbed the ladder of quality world health standards.

For over 30 years, Saint Lucia and other nations across the region have benefitted from improvement of national health services thanks to Cuba’s free training of health professionals. The Cuban medical army in West Africa is no more or no less important than their counterparts in Saint Lucia and other Caribbean countries.

Hundreds of Cuban doctors have in recent years given free eye care to millions across the Caribbean and Latin America through the ‘Operation Miracle’ (Milagro) eye programme. Over ten thousand Saint Lucians benefitted – and are still benefitting – from that level of eye care from the Cubans manning the ophthalmology centre at Victoria Hospital and quietly criss-crossing the country to better the eyesight of so many.

Even before the latest Ebola and Chikungunya outbreaks in Africa and the Caribbean, respectively, Cuba’s leading role in medical services had been consistently praised annually by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). WHO Director General Margaret Chan earlier this year visited Havana and again heaped praise on Cuba’s health system, ranking it at the top of the world in standards and delivery.

Saint Lucian and other OECS medical professionals who recently travelled to Havana to learn more to better battle Ebola returned home much better prepared. The Cubans have also placed an Ebola SWAT Team at LIAT’s headquarters at Antigua’s airport for quick dispatch whenever and wherever a case may surface in the region. Similar teams have also been dispatched to several territories, even as Cuba dispatches its teams to Africa. And Havana has never once turned down any appeal for help from any country to fight Ebola, never once made its participation conditional on that of others.

Once again, Havana has amazed and bewildered, in equal measure, those who doubted its capacity to help humanity overcome odds in health and education, despite the continuing five-decades-old US trade, commercial and economic blockade of the small island nation.
The rest of the world continued this year to press Washington – for the 23rd consecutive year at the United Nations – to lift the US embargo on Cuba, which punishes any country or company that does any type of business with Cuba.

Major international medical, pharmaceutical and bio-medical companies have been heavily punished by Washington for their health products ending-up in Cuban hospitals. Countries and companies willing to sell important medical equipment to Havana are simply told ‘It’s against US policy’ so they simply cannot trade with Cuba using US dollars. As a result, Cuba’s doctors and scientists are being forced to deliver advanced and universal health care with outdated equipment. The health of an entire nation is anchored by an enduring, universally-punishing political embargo imposed and maintained by a giant neighbour just 90 miles away.

Can we imagine just how much more Cuba would have been able to do to battle Ebola the world over if only it had been allowed to trade with the rest of the world to access the medical supplies and equipment it needs? Can we tell how many more new anti-cancer tropical medicines Cuba would have added to its growing list of new cures already invented and developed?

US Embargo or not, Cuba will continue to deploy its doctors beyond boundaries and borders to heal nations and care for mankind. But the rest of the world must now get more firm in its global resolve to see the US embargo lifted.

With the likes of the New York Times and the Cuban community in Florida all calling for reviews of US relations with Cuba today, with more Americans opposing the embargo every year and with more Americans opposing what’s happening at the US Army’s detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the rest of the world must find new ways of bringing reality to light in Washington.

The USA is no longer the unchallenged overall universal powerhouse it once was. American voters have just dealt President Barack Obama and the Democrats a serious blow by handing the Congress to the Republicans. That can slow-down any plans Obama may have had for decriminalizing travel to or doing business with Cuba in the last two years of his final term. But any American President — beleaguered or not — has a veto power much stronger than Washington applies at the UN Security Council.

Obama’s next and final two years will therefore show to what extent he is still the most modern and progressive US President he is still held-up by many to be, or just another US President and Commander in Chief always expected and always willing do all that’s necessary to ensure that the US remains the most powerful and potent political, economic and military force on earth — and will do its will whenever and wherever, at any time, for as long as it can and wants to, no matter what!

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