New York Times editorial: Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-20 22:01:06 UTC
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*New York Times Oct. 19, 2014*

*Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola *
*Leer en Español (Read in Spanish) »

Cuban health workers in Sierra Leone. Credit Florian Plaucheur/Agence
France-Presse — Getty Images

Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world
and lies about 4,500 miles from the West African nations where Ebola is
spreading at an alarming rate. Yet, having pledged to deploy hundreds of
medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic, Cuba stands to
play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.

Cuba’s contribution is doubtlessly meant at least in part to bolster its
beleaguered international standing. Nonetheless, it should be lauded and

The global panic over Ebola has not brought forth an adequate response from
the nations with the most to offer. While the United States and several
other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds
<http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/10/233091.htm>, only Cuba and
a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed:
medical professionals in the field.

Doctors in West Africa desperately need support to establish isolation
facilities and mechanisms to detect cases early. More than 400 medical
personnel have been infected and about 4,500
patients have died. The virus has shown up in the United States and Europe,
raising fears that the epidemic could soon become a global menace.

It is a shame that Washington, the chief donor in the fight against Ebola,
is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the boldest contributor. In this
case the schism has life-or-death consequences, because American and Cuban
officials are not equipped to coordinate global efforts at a high level.
This should serve as an urgent reminder to the Obama administration that
the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba
far outweigh the drawbacks.

The Cuban health care workers will be among the most exposed foreigners,
and some could very well contract the virus. The World Health Organization
is directing the team of Cuban doctors, but it remains unclear how it would
treat and evacuate Cubans who become sick. Transporting quarantined
patients requires sophisticated teams and specially configured aircraft.
Most insurance companies that provide medical evacuation services have said
they will not be flying Ebola patients.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday praised “the courage of any health
care worker who is undertaking this challenge,” and made a brief
acknowledgment of Cuba’s response. As a matter of good sense and
compassion, the American military, which now has about 550 troops in West
Africa, should commit to giving any sick Cuban access to the treatment
center the Pentagon built in Monrovia and to assisting with evacuation.

The work of these Cuban medics benefits the entire global effort and should
be recognized for that. But Obama administration officials have callously
declined to say what, if any, support they would give them.

The Cuban health sector is aware of the risks of taking on dangerous
missions. Cuban doctors assumed the lead role
in treating cholera patients in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake in
2010. Some returned home sick, and then the island had its first outbreak
of cholera
<http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article1954303.html> in a
century. An outbreak of Ebola on the island could pose a far more dangerous
risk and increase the odds of a rapid spread in the Western Hemisphere.

Cuba has a long tradition of dispatching doctors and nurses to disaster
areas abroad. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Cuban
government created a quick-reaction medical corps and offered to send
doctors to New Orleans. The United States, unsurprisingly, didn’t take
Havana up on that offer. Yet officials in Washington seemed thrilled to
learn in recent weeks that Cuba had activated the medical teams for
missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

With technical support from the World Health Organization, the Cuban
government trained 460 doctors and nurses on the stringent precautions that
must be taken to treat people with the highly contagious virus. The first
group of 165 professionals arrived in Sierra Leone in recent days. José
Luis Di Fabio <http://www.who.int/hac/network/who/co_cuba/en/>, the World
Health Organization’s representative in Havana, said Cuban medics were
uniquely suited for the mission because many had already worked in Africa.
“Cuba has very competent medical professionals,” said Mr. Di Fabio, who is
Uruguayan. Mr. Di Fabio said Cuba’s efforts to aid in health emergencies
abroad are stymied by the embargo the United States imposes on the island,
which struggles to acquire modern equipment and keep medical shelves
adequately stocked.

In a column
published over the weekend in Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, Fidel
Castro argued that the United States and Cuba must put aside their
differences, if only temporarily, to combat a deadly scourge. He’s
absolutely right.
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