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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 78/No. 38      October 27, 2014

 

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(lead article)

Cuba’s ‘army of white coats’ leads the fight against Ebola

Bohemia/Antonio Pons

Cuban volunteers for combat against Ebola trained rigorously for weeks at Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute (above) before heading to Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa.

BY SETH GALINSKY
A Cuban “army of white coats” is leading the battle against Ebola in West Africa. Their example of internationalist solidarity is gaining worldwide attention and challenging the values of capitalist society.

The revolutionary Cuban government selected 461 doctors and nurses out of more than 15,000 volunteers to go to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry to save lives and fight the deadly epidemic. The first contingent of 165 arrived in Sierra Leone Oct. 2.

“The battle is here,” one Cuban health worker told the press when he stepped onto the tarmac.

At a welcoming ceremony with Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma and other government officials, Cuban Ambassador Jorge Lefebre Nicolás said that the volunteers would stay “as long as it takes to contain the disease.”

Two days later an advance team arrived in Liberia to prepare the way for 50 Cuban doctors and nurses.

Cuba’s medical contingent fighting Ebola is far larger than that of any other country in the world.

The scope and decisive character of Cuba’s response stunned the big-business press in the U.S.

“Cuban Doctors at the Forefront of Ebola Battle in Africa,” a front-page headline in the Oct. 9 Wall Street Journal read. The United Nations “is calling for nations to dispatch doctors and nurses to West Africa, where thousands of lives are on the line,” the Journal said. “Few have heeded the call, but one country has responded in strength: Cuba.”

“In the Medical Response to Ebola, Cuba Is Punching Far Above Its Weight,” read a Washington Post headline Oct. 4.

Cuba’s aid is the opposite of charity. The Cubans are motivated by a deep sense of solidarity that flows from the moral values of their revolution, which put workers and farmers in power. From the first days of the revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuban working people have prided themselves on a foreign policy guided by proletarian internationalism — from medical assistance to military aid for liberation movements around the world.

The fight against Ebola “is carried out under the principle that we don’t give what we have left over; we share what we have,” Cuba’s Public Health Minister Roberto Morales said at a Sept. 12 press conference in Geneva that announced Cuba’s plans.

4,000 Cuba volunteers in Africa
Even before the arrival of the reinforcements for the fight against Ebola, Cuba had more than 4,000 health workers in 32 African countries

The spread of Ebola in West Africa is largely a consequence of economic and social underdevelopment. Liberia has just 51 doctors for its 4.3 million people and one hospital bed for every five Ebola patients. Sierra Leone has just 120 doctors for 6 million people. Guinea-Conakry, with 1.2 million people, has 120 doctors.

The flood of Ebola cases has overwhelmed the existing hospitals and clinics, often paralyzing medical treatments for other diseases like cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS that are epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shortages of protective equipment and lack of proper sanitation and sewage disposal are widespread. And a combination of border closures, quarantines of working-class neighborhoods and the toll of the disease in agricultural areas has begun to cause food shortages. In Sierra Leone, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that up to 40 percent of farms in the areas hardest hit by Ebola have been abandoned.

While France-based Doctors Without Borders has some 250 international health workers in West Africa, governments with the greatest resources have sent very few medical personnel.

China has 23 health workers at an Ebola treatment ward and blood-testing lab in Liberia and says it will be sending 170 more. Japan is sending $40 million but no personnel. The French government is planning to operate a 50-bed clinic in Guinea staffed by 15 French medical workers. Washington is sending 4,000 soldiers to ostensibly build clinics, but no doctors or nurses to staff them. London is sending 750 people to build clinics in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but “it isn’t clear who will staff the clinics,” the Journal reported.

The number of new Ebola cases continues to increase exponentially, roughly doubling every three to four weeks. As of Oct. 8, the World Health Organization reports there were 8,399 cases of Ebola and more than 4,000 deaths since the outbreak began.

Meanwhile, U.S. investors are mulling over which stocks to buy and which to sell to cash in on the crisis. In Marketwatch.com Oct. 13, Nigam Arora warns that buying “Ebola stocks” in companies developing drugs to treat or prevent the disease are “a bad investment because even if there is a successful drug, after the initial stockpiling the market size is limited.” If investing in personal protection equipment, he says, stick with “well-recognized brand names.”

In a column by Fidel Castro published in the Oct. 7 issue of Granma, the Cuban revolutionary leader said “the heroic action of the army of white coats will occupy one of the highest places of honor.”


 
 
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