The Italian region of Lombardy, one of the worst hit by the coronavirus, has recruited 53 Cuban doctors, while brigades of sanitary from the island have also begun to reach countries in the Americas and the Caribbean. What is it that makes them so valuable in this type of scenario?
HOW DOES HEALTH WORK IN CUBA AND WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DOCTORS?
The training of doctors and health personnel has been one of Cuba’s priorities for decades, where both the health system and education and university studies are public and free. The communist system in force on the island for 60 years has not allowed doctors to work in the private sector: they all work for the state. In the country there are nine doctors for every 1,000 inhabitants, according to official data from 2019.
THE ‘ARMY OF WHITE COATS’: GO WHERE NOBODY WANTS TO GO
The “medical missions”, as they are called in Cuba, consist of sending health professionals to countries that request it from the Cuban Government.
These requests come in the event of a crisis, as has happened now with Italy, but usually they are made by nations that need more doctors than they have, that want to reinforce specific medical specialties or that need to cover health care in remote or risky areas. to which the local doctors do not want to go.
Currently, there are some 28,000 Cuban doctors in 59 countries, of which 37 have cases of COVID-19. Over the years, more than 400,000 professionals have carried out missions in 164 countries in Africa, America, the Middle East and Asia.
HOW MUCH DOES A CUBAN DOCTOR COST AND WHO PAYS IT?
Although in some cases – especially humanitarian catastrophes – they are solidarity initiatives whose cost is borne by the State, most missions fall into the category of export of professional services, one of Cuba’s main sources of foreign exchange.
The country that contracts these services pays for them to the Cuban Government, which does not disclose specific details of the transactions. The latest official data available (2017) put Cuba’s income from professional services at $ 9.628 million.
The salary that an applicant country pays for each Cuban professional varies, but workers receive only a percentage of that money – it is estimated that between 20 and 30%. The rest goes to the coffers of the Cuban state, which ensures that these revenues are used to finance the free health system on the island.
WHY ARE THEY GOOD IN HEALTH CRISIS MANAGEMENT?
In 2005, then-Cuban President Fidel Castro ordered the creation of an emergency medical contingent to offer assistance to the United States after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.
The neighboring country rejected aid, but the Henry Reeve brigade had already been born, which until today has assisted in the front line in countless crises and disasters: the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry and Liberia (2014-2015) and that of cholera in Haiti, the earthquakes in that Caribbean country, Pakistan (2005) and Nepal (2015), floods and hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean …
The experience accumulated in these three decades makes them tremendously valuable in medical emergencies and was recognized in 2017 by the World Health Organization with the award for Public Health in Memory of Dr. Lee Jong-wook.
THE NEED IS THE MOTHER OF THE INVENTION
To all the baggage accumulated by Henry Reeve is added the response capacity of Cubans, who after 60 years under embargo by the United States and with a planned inefficient economy, are used to facing difficult situations with limited resources.
From splinting a broken wooden limb to a door frame to using a plastic cup as a nebulizer, Cuban doctors have a proven track record of reacting quickly and finding solutions given their country’s perpetual shortage.
WHAT COUNTRIES HAVE CUBAN DOCTORS REQUESTED TO FIGHT AGAINST CORONAVIRUSES?
In addition to the 53 doctors and nurses who are already in the Italian region of Lombardy, in the last two weeks brigades of doctors and nurses have left for Granada, Suriname, Jamaica, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and St. Lucia.
Six specialists from the Henry Reeve traveled to Venezuela, where more than 20,000 Cuban doctors work, and five others from the same contingent traveled to Nicaragua to collaborate with that country in the implementation of the control, confrontation and treatment protocols for COVID- 19.
The specialties most demanded by the countries are intensive therapy, virology, epidemiology and pharmacology, according to reports from the state press.
THE POLITICS WITH THE USA
Cuban medical missions, however, have also recently become a battlefront between the island and the United States, which this week urged countries that are requesting medical aid from Havana to examine the agreements and end ” to labor abuses. “
The United States began months ago a campaign of attacks on the medical services of the Caribbean country, whose government accuses of withholding most of the salary of health personnel while exposing them to “appalling working conditions.”
Cuba calls these accusations “lies” and “immoral campaign” and has asked to put aside “pettiness and hostility” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed thousands of victims in just three months.
In the last year, the Caribbean island also withdrew, due to clashes with a political background, the thousands of doctors from its missions in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Aside from working conditions, human rights organizations critical of the Cuban government have also considered in recent days that medical missions are used as propaganda.