Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cuba emerges as committed ally against Ebola - yet can't treat illnesses at home

Cuba emerges as committed ally against Ebola - yet can't treat illnesses
at home
By Andrew O'ReillyPublished October 22, 2014 Fox News Latino

Cuba is a nation of just over 11 million people that has been in
economic dire straits since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the
early 1990s and has had a combative relationship with its neighbor to
the north, the United States, for much longer than that.

Yet the socialist state has emerged as one of the most committed
providers of medical supplies and healthcare workers to the
Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa.

About 165 Cuban health workers arrived last Thursday in Sierra Leone –
the largest medical contingent from any nation, according to the World
Health Organization (WHO) – to fight Ebola and 296 other doctors and
nurses are currently being trained in Cuba before shipping out to
Liberia and Guinea where the deadly virus is also spreading. On Tuesday,
Cuba's intensive care specialist Leonardo Fernández headed to Guinea and
Liberia along with 90 other Cuban medical workers as part of the
country's half-century-old strategy that puts doctors on the forefront
of the Cuba's foreign policy.

The commitment from the government of Raúl Castro has led to widespread
praise from across the international community – including the United
States – but also to allegations that the regime is sending doctors to
West Africa for less than altruistic reasons along with neglecting its
own populace in the meantime.

"They've been doing this kind of medical diplomacy for years because
this is really all they've got besides rum and cigars," Ricardo Herrero,
the executive director of the Miami-based advocacy group #CubaNow told
Fox News Latino. "They've got plenty of work to do with their image on
the world stage but they've got some good PR from this."

Cuba's Ebola effort has been called "robust" and "impressive" by media
outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, while WHO
praised the effort and encouraged more countries to follow in Cuba's

"Those of us who have been working on the response efforts at WHO know
how truly valuable this offer is," Bruce Aylward, assistant director at
WHO said of Cuba's doctors heading to West Africa in a press statement.
"Many countries have offered money but no other country has offered such
a large number of workers to go in and help do the most difficult jobs
in this crisis."

The United States and Western European powers have so far donated vast
sums of money - $258 million from the U.S. alone – but despite the U.S.
sending some Marines to Liberia to battle the virus, no country has
committed as many boots on the ground as Cuba.

Some experts see the silver lining of the Ebola crisis being the
opportunity for the U.S. and Cuba to jointly work on combating the virus
and possibly repairing some of the strained relations on the side.
Former leader Fidel Castro said in an article published Saturday that
Cuba was ready to work with the U.S. and Secretary of State John Kerry
mentioned Cuba on Friday as a country stepping up on the frontlines.

"We've seen mutual cooperation before between the U.S. and Cuba,"
Herrero said. "To us, however, eradicating Ebola is the mother of common

Besides the philanthropic gesture to send medical workers to West
Africa, some observers say that Cuba's efforts against Ebola is a way to
put on a good face toward sympathetic U.S. politicians as Cuba's economy
– and those of some of its close allies – continues on a downward spiral.

World Bank statistics put Cuba's gross domestic product at about $68.2
billion in 2011 – only a little better than Azerbaijan $65.9 billion –
and its per capita GDP is $6,051 compared to the U.S.'s $49,855. When
Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela, Cuba found a wealthy ally to supply
cheap oil in exchange for doctors, but as the government in Caracas
suffers through its own economic doldrums they have signaled that the
inexpensive shipments of oil could soon slow…if not stop altogether.

"There has been a lot of talk about Cuba being concerned about Venezuela
having to cut off the amount of oil its ships to them," Susan Kaufman
Purcell, the director of the University of Miami's Center for
Hemispheric Policy, told Fox News Latino. "This is part of an effort on
the part of Cuba to look good in the eyes of the U.S. and get support of
U.S. politicians who could help lift the embargo."

The U.S. has had a commercial, economic, and financial embargo against
Cuba since 1962 and while there has been a loosening in years, Cuba –
and the vast majority of countries in the United Nations – has lobbied
for it to be lifted.

While Cuba's motives in Africa have been ubiquitously praised, some
experts worry that Cuba's historical focus on using its doctors on
so-called "soft power" missions is hurting its population on the island.

For decades, Cuba has been praised for its free, universal healthcare
and medical advances that has brought its life expectancy rate on par
with the U.S., made its infant mortality rate the lowest in the
hemisphere and eradicated measles on the island.

The crumbling economic situation, however, has shown cracks in the
country's aging system and revealed poorly stocked pharmacies, hospitals
that require patients to bring their own sheets and only about 10
percent of the island having access to clean drinking water. The U.S.
embargo hasn't helped either as it makes replacing parts for more
technologically advanced equipment such as mammograms and cancer therapy
hard to replace.

"The foreign policy concerns of the country have always outweighed the
ability of the country to deal with its own population," Kaufman Purcell
told FNL. "Now they really can't afford to do this."

And despite the training the doctors in Cuba are receiving before
heading to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, observers say that the
nation itself is ill fit to deal with the virus if it comes to Cuba –
making the country hope that the goodwill they have now will pay off.

"If there is Ebola exposure that reaches them," Kaufman Purcell said,
"they're woefully unprepared to deal with it."

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

Source: Cuba emerges as committed ally against Ebola - yet can't treat
illnesses at home | Fox News Latino -

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