HAVANA / LOME — At the beginning of Togo’s coronovirus outbreak, the small West African country welcomes a team of 12 Cuban healthcare workers to help the patient suffer from the virus, boost its laboratory testing and improve its hospital protocols did.
When the virus was overwhelming health systems around the world, the communist-run Caribbean island claimed a scarce resource: a surplus of doctors trained to deploy abroad and battling infectious disease.
And it was ready to send countries around the world requesting them for help.
The head of cooperation at Togo’s foreign ministry, Charles Azilan, said, “As scientific and medical circles strengthen Cuban medicine, reinforced by previous experiences, the darkness has been suppressed.”
Approximately 40 countries from five continents have received cubic medics during the epidemic, as the island nation – to just over 11 million inhabitants – is once heavily camouflaged by its weight in medical diplomacy.
Since its 1959 left-wing revolution, Cuba has sent its “army of white coats” to disaster sites and outbreaks of diseases worldwide in the name of solidarity. Over the past decade, they have fought cholera in West Africa, in Haiti and Ebola.
It is not that its brigades are purely philanthropic. Cuba has in recent decades exported to doctors on a more regular mission in exchange for cash or commodities, making them the top source of hard currency.
While some countries have received medics for free during the epidemic, others are paying off: a modest boon to the Cuban economy that is struggling with a coronovirus-induced collapse in tourism.
The government of Togo, like many others in the past, praised the brigade as an example of south-south cooperation, calling it a “turning point” in their relations.
Yet Western countries such as Amir, Andorra and Italy have welcomed Cuban intermediaries to fight the epidemic, as there are countries that do not combine with Cuba politically like Peru.
The success of the medics is a setback for the administration of US President Donald Trump, who has launched an unprecedented campaign against Cuban medical missions in recent years, stating what it calls their exploitative labor conditions.
Havana described the US attacks as ideologically driven.
Cuban experts say that while some criticisms of the US were legitimate, it was ultimately intended to strangle the island’s economy to badly replace and entice Castro voters in Florida’s swing state before the November US presidential election.
Washington was “almost completely different” on its Cuban policy, said Bose, the former British ambassador to the island, who lectures at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, while its “America First” strategy was part of Cuban’s medical diplomacy Was hostile.
Several Caribbean countries complained in April of instances of US Customs blocking shipments of medical supplies to them, as the region was welcoming hundreds of Cuban doctors.
With financial support from its former ally, the Soviet Union, Cuba built a healthcare system that was the envy of the developing world under the leadership of the late Fidel Castro.
Some of those advances have been lost since the fall of the Communist bloc. Many hospitals are run down, medicines are in short supply and Cubans complain of a decline in the quality of medical training.
Nevertheless, Cuba has one of the highest proportions of physicians per capita in the world and even before the epidemic, some 28,000 medics were deployed globally. It has since sent over 4,000.
“They are life givers,” said Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and president of the Caribbean block CARICOM. “In some Caribbean countries, they are the backbone of the epidemic response.”
Jamaica, for example, welcomed 137 Cuban doctors in March, with 296 already practicing there.
“Without them, it would have been very difficult for us,” said Jamaica’s chief nursing officer, Patricia Ingram-Martin.
Host countries say they tried to learn from home to deal with the epidemic in Cuba: isolating cases, locating their contacts, investigating victims and implementing medical treatments such as the antiviral agent Interferon.
Cuba has had only 4,684 cases and 108 deaths so far: one-tenth of the global average per capita.
Several doctors are also graduates of Cuba’s international medical school in Havana, who have trained an estimated 30,000 foreigners, on the front of the fight against coronoviruses in the global south.
The Trump administration has refused to pay Havana, usually by 75% or more host countries, for its doctors – comparing the brigade to human trafficking.
The Cuban government has compared it to retaining the tax that goes to finance its universal health system.
Human Rights Watch has also criticized the Cuban doctors’ repressive work conditions, including that it is banned to return home for eight years if there is a defect.
Conservative governments in Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador have in recent years ended their agreements with Cuba, amid allegations in the latter two countries that doctors also interfered in domestic politics – Havana denied.
A spokesman for the US State Department told Reuters that it praised those countries, as well as countries like Barbados, which sought to ensure the Cuban medics were guaranteed direct payment and rights while working there.
Cuban doctors told Reuters that when they want a better position, the mission allows them to earn significantly more than their $ 70- $ 100 monthly salary at home.
Analysts say sending doctors home, many of whom work in remote, impoverished areas that struggle to attract local medics, is particularly vulnerable.
The pandemic Brazil has re-hired 1,012 Cuban doctors selected to live in the country, allowing them to work in basic first aid for two years without the need to practice.
Only four have been re-hired in Brasilia, with 70 used to be there. Tania Ribeiro, a nurse in a poor neighborhood in the capital, said Cuban doctors had given up.
“He was warm and charismatic. Patients love him, ”she said.
Carlos Dorado, director of a hospital in the northern Bolivian city of Guaramerin, said it specifically recalled the Cuban physician who was its only intensive care physician.
He said, “Now we don’t have just one, although you need COVID the most.”
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