Cuban Doctors Join Global Fight Against COVID-19

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SEATTLE, Washington — The healthcare systems of countries all over the world have been struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid spread of the coronavirus has had a wide reaching impact on wealthy and poor countries. However, developing countries and those with widespread poverty are uniquely vulnerable due to weaker healthcare systems and citizens being unable to afford medical treatment. During this time of unprecedented medical struggles, help for many countries has come in the form of Cuban medical internationalism. Teams of Cuban doctors have been sent to countries around the world, including some of the poorest and most remote regions, to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

History of Sending Medical Aid

The COVID-19 crisis is far from the first time that Cuba has provided medical assistance to other countries. Because of Cuba’s free healthcare system and dedicated investment in the biotechnology industry, the medical workforce has been well-suited to help during times of international need. Cuban doctors went to Chile in 1960 to aid in recovery efforts after the country was devastated by an earthquake. In 1963, the Cuban capital city of Havana sent medical workers to help build a stronger healthcare system in the newly independent country of Algeria.
These medical outreach programs were free for the countries in need up until the early 2000s, when they began to establish more permanent medical missions. In the over 50 years that these medical intervention programs have existed, Cuba has sent an estimated 135,000 to 400,000 doctors to assist in other countries during times of crisis.

Medical Aid since COVID-19

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Cuba has sent doctors to nearly 40 countries across five continents. Some of the countries receiving assistance from Cuban medical internationalism include Togo, Peru, Jamaica, Barbados and South Africa. Cuban medical teams have been able to help significantly in regions that are struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19. The prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines called the deployed Cuban doctors “lifesavers” and said that in some countries in the Caribbean, Cuban doctors make up the strongest medical support.
Medical teams from Cuba are often sent to poor and remote regions of their host countries that are suffering from a shortage of local doctors and available medical supplies. Cuban doctors provide invaluable assistance to healthcare systems that are underfunded and unprepared for the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Their support leads to improving access to medical care for citizens living in poor areas.
Many of these countries hope to emulate the strategies that have been used to control the spread of the virus in Cuba. As of early September, Cuba reported only 4,684 cases of coronavirus, and island-wide deaths were a tenth of the global average per capita.

Cuba’s Success

There are a number of reasons why Cuba has been so successful at keeping the spread of COVID-19 contained, despite the fact that the country still struggles with widespread poverty. Cuba’s public health system is supported by the highest ratio of doctors to citizens in the world.
They were able to develop a “prevention and control” plan in January, when the pandemic was still in its early stages and many countries were not yet taking the threat seriously. The Cuban healthcare system educated the public on the necessary precautions to take, increased testing and instituted rigorous contact tracing and isolation by sending medical workers daily to every house in the country. This has allowed Cuba to keep cases low and decreasing since mid-April.
In these chaotic times, it is more important than ever to help the less fortunate. Cuban doctors and their country’s medical internationalism have helped save lives in many struggling countries, providing hope that coronavirus can be controlled across the world.

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr

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