Cuba’s unprecedented response to Ebola has shaken the international community to its core, prompting speculation on whether such actions will open the door for diplomacy.
The island nation has dispatched more health-care professionals to West Africa than any other country. Following Cuba, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, India and China announced their own efforts to stem the epidemic.
The action has garnered praise from the World Health Organization, international humanitarian organizations and even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry called Cuba’s efforts “impressive.”
This prompted Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro to say they would be pleased to work with the U.S.
“With pleasure we will cooperate with U.S. personnel in that task,” he wrote in Granma magazine.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean “all is forgotten” with respect to the 50-year trade embargo, Castro indicated that such efforts are a great example of “solidarity.” Still, the United States continued to come under fire from critics when two American officials of the Centers for Disease Control attended conference on Ebola in Havana.
The U.S. and Cuba have upped their efforts to deal with the epidemic from two different approaches.
President Raul Castro’s health minister announced on September 12 that nearly five hundred health-care professionals would be sent to West Africa. There are 165 Cubans in Sierra Leone and 83 in Liberia and Guinea. Two hundred more are expected.
At the heart of Cuba’s mission in West Africa is the belief ingrained in medical school that it’s their duty to serve.
“We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand… but it is our duty,” Leonardo Fernandez, a 63-year-old Cuban doctor, told Reuters before departing to Liberia. “That’s how we’ve been educated.”
When facing natural disaster or disease outbreak, Cuba’s health practitioners are well trained. Each has 15 years of experience or more.
“Cuba is training doctors in prevention and in healing people,” said Jose Pertierra, an expert in Cuban affairs, told Sputnik news. “It’s not a business for Cuba.”
On the other hand, President Barack Obama announced that the United States intends to take the lead in the global response to the stop the Ebola outbreak during a speech on October 25.
“We have to keep leading the global response, because the best way to stop this disease, the best way to keep Americans safe, is to stop it at its source — in West Africa,” President Obama said.
The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will deploy 65 health workers to support the new hospital in Monrovia to care for health workers who become sick.
However, so far, the U.S. has focused on sending soldiers. The approach is part of a military staging base that would facilitate the coordination of the American and international response in expediting the transportation of equipment, supplies and up to 3,000 personnel from the military, according to the World Health Organization.
Pertierra believes that although the Ebola crisis will not be the sole reason for a change in policy between the U.S. and Cuba, it’s an ingredient for gradual transition.
“In a sense, Cuba and the United States are working hand-in-hand,” he said. “Cuba is putting up the doctors and the U.S. government is putting up infrastructure, which leads to hospitals, clinics and so forth. It’s better to build bridges than trenches.”