Cuban doctors are world renowned for their expertise and knowledge as well as their availability to work abroad which is why they are being deployed worldwide to tackle the novel coronavirus outbreak. Such is their capability; they are being invited all over the Caribbean and elsewhere. Many of the hired Cuban medics have experience in fighting the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Other Cuban groups have left for Nicaragua, Suriname, Granada and Jamaica.
Jamaica welcomed 140 Cuban medical professionals on the island Saturday, to help the country fight COVID-19. The St Lucia government has hired 100 Cuban doctors and nurses to help their effort too. Barbados is considering hiring Cuban doctors and nurses to assist their battle.
The Jamaican team comprises of 90 nurses specialising in critical care, emergency, medical-surgical and primary care; a team of 46 doctors who are internists and haematologists, and four therapists. In keeping with the government’s current regulations for travel, the entire team are quarantined for 14 days before being deployed across hospitals island wide.
The Cuban medics arrived at the Norman Manley International Airport and were greeted by Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton and Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, Inés Fors Fernández.
Tufton said: “Thank you, Cuba for your quick response to our request for support against COVID-19. Thanks to the local health team who coordinated to get this mission here in just over a month.”
A spokesperson for the medical team said Cuba was happy to assist Jamaica and stressed the importance of solidarity amid the spiralling spread of the virus. “We will assist our sister nation. We are proud of following the principles of the Cuban medical collaboration,” said Eduardo Ropero, head of the corps.
“We, along with Cuban doctors already working in Jamaica as part of a bilateral agreement between the two governments, are committed to helping address COVID-19,” he added.
The medical collaboration between Jamaica and Cuba dates back to 1976 when at the request of the Jamaican government, Cuba sent a brigade of 14 doctors to the island. Over the years, Cuba has sent hundreds of medical professionals to Jamaica to assist whenever possible. Jamaica has also returned the favour, sending nurses and doctors to its neighbour to assist in times of crisis.
Jamaica had reported 23 cases of the COVID-19, including one death by Wednesday. The entire country has been declared a disaster area, with schools, bars, entertainment venues, and universities closed. Communities in Bull Bay in St Andrew and Corn Piece in Clarendon have also been quarantined. The country’s air and seaports are closed to incoming traffic for two weeks.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet announced that the Cuban health professionals would provide much needed assistance to their local counterparts. Chastanet told legislators that accommodation has already been arranged for the Cuban doctors and nurses who are expected by Friday.
Chastanet also thanked the government of Cayman, who he said volunteered one of their planes to transport the Cuban medical team directly to St Lucia. They will be helping to set up Victoria Hospital as a dedicated respiratory hospital. They will work at both Victoria and the Owen King European Union (OKEU) Hospital.
Chastanet also said that the most dangerous threat surrounding the virus is what has been seen in other countries like Italy, where hospitals become overwhelmed to the extent that healthcare becomes increasingly difficult to deliver.
He noted that the decision to close St Lucia's airports to incoming passengers, including St Lucian nationals wanting to return home, was a tough but necessary call. The plan is to have OKEU serve the basic health needs of St Lucians while Victoria will be a dedicated respiratory hospital to deal with a potential crisis.
Brazil has revised its position against the presence of Cuban doctors in its health care program and now its health ministry has announced that it intends to re-hire up to 1,800 Cubans to tackle the problem.
Almost 9,000 Cuban doctors, many working in poor, remote communities across Brazil, headed home in November 2018, after Havana pulled them. Brazil President, Jair Bolsonaro said they were working in “slave labour” because the Cuban government took 75 percent of their salaries. But 1,800 did not go back to Cuba and will be eligible for re-hiring, a ministry official told Reuters.
So in demand are the Cubans that a medical team arrived in Italy this week to help their crisis. When boarding a flight in Havana towards Rome, they were applauded by the other passengers. The delegation included 37 doctors and 17 nurses and will work at the Crema field hospital, in the Lombardy region, the epicentre of the crisis with over 28,000 cases and more than 3,500 deaths.
Lombardy authorities made an international appeal asking for help in dealing with the countless cases which prompted the Cubans' response. Cuban doctors have much experience with major epidemics. Cheers Cubans serve 61 countries in Africa, Central America and Asia. They operate mainly in poor countries, and in locations without medical coverage.
In recent times, doctors have become Cuba’s biggest export. When former Cuban leader Fidel Castro established a communist regime on the island in the 1950s, universal health care was one of his biggest investments. This led to a booming healthcare system, a higher life expectancy than in the United States, and more doctors per capita. And while Cuba has recorded 21 cases of COVID-19, many countries around the world are looking to the island for answers.
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