SEATTLE, Washington — COVID-19 is changing our world one day at a time. The impacts of the global pandemic have been driving people apart as countries implement social distancing, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Yet, the small nation of Cuba found a way to pave new relationships and combat COVID-19 while maintaining a social distance of 7,569 km.
Cuba and International Aid
The presence of Cuban “white coat brigades” across the globe may seem strange. However, it has long been a standing pillar of the Cuban identity. Cuba has administered international aid, specifically foreign medical aid, since 1963 when the country sent the first Cuban nurses and doctors to Algeria. Now, hundreds of thousands of Cuban healthcare providers have worked globally in 164 different countries.
These medical missions have faced harsh criticism in the past few years with many critics calling the program “a way for the communist island to show soft power and evade economic sanctions.” However, after the global outbreak of COVID-19, these doctors have been called upon again to relieve local medical teams. Even countries that have recently expelled Cuban medical professionals are now arguing in favor of their return.
Cuban Doctors in Andorra
One of these countries is the small landlocked nation of Andorra. The Pyrenees Principality, located between France and Spain, has faced some difficulty addressing COVID. In response to Andorra’s plea for international aid, 12 Cuban doctors and 27 nurses went to Andorra. Its population of just 77,000 people is mostly reliant on commerce and tourism as a staple of the economy. Hence, stay-at-home issues have created new economic challenges for the country.
Andorra and Italy were the only European countries to receive help from Cuba, specifically regarding the treatment of coronavirus patients. Andorran Health Minister Joan Martinez Benazet said they called upon the Cuban “white coat brigades” because 60 members of their own medical staff “might have caught the virus.” As of May 27, 2020, thirteen members of the Cuban “white coat brigades” returned home from Andorra “with their duties fulfilled.” On June 1, 2020, Andorra reported 765 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with an astonishing 698 patients recovered. No doubt that without the aid from the Cuban medical staff the Andorran recovery rate would not be as high.
Local NGOs Picking Up Where Cuba Left Off
Andorra has begun lifting restrictions and opening the country back up in the wake of the warmer months. Local NGOs have emerged and are trying to ensure that the efforts of the Cuban doctors were not in vain. Caritas Andorra (a local nonprofit) is working with health authorities, the Ministry of Social Aﬀairs, Housing and Youth Aﬀairs to better distribute resources to the poorest communities in Andorra.
Caritas Andorra’s mission is to “to ensure the integral development of persons and to relieve the suﬀering caused by catastrophes, conflicts and injustice,” such as the coronavirus pandemic. The organization was also responsible for providing “suitable clothing for cold weather,” housing and food to Cuban healthcare workers while they were abroad.
The cooperation of local efforts and international support has given Andorra a fighting chance in the midst of the global pandemic. Thanks to the Cuban outreach many other countries, like Andorra, are beginning the long road to recovery. The work of local non-profits, such as Caritas Andorra, is continuing the efforts started by these Cuban “white coat brigades” and looking to further counter the effects of COVID-19 in impoverished communities.
– Elizabeth Price