By: Luis Hernández Navarro
In the Lombardy region of northern Italy, Cuban doctors and nurses tirelessly combat the coronavirus epidemic under campaign conditions. They belong to the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade, created in 2005 by Fidel Castro to offer assistance to the United States after Hurricane Katrina passed through New Orleans.
The island mission is made up of a logistics chief and 35 doctors: 23 general practitioners, pulmonologists, intensive care specialists and infectious disease specialists, in addition to 15 nurses. Several are veterans in these fights, who fought against Ebola in West Africa in 2015. Their selflessness and professionalism are widely recognized. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) awarded them the Lee Jong-Wook Public Health Award.
Upon arriving in Italy, Carlos Ricardo Pérez Díaz, head of the Cuban brigade of white coats, declared: “We will be firm and take all the time that may be necessary to aid in fighting this epidemic.” And, in an interview with the SER Chain, he explained: “We have a humanist training, based on the principle of solidarity, of commitment to the profession and medicine.”
That principle –according to Doctor Pérez Díaz– is based “on that we cannot give what we have left over, but on sharing what we have. We have to share with others as much as we can. That is the challenge. That is the real principle of solidarity.”
The health solidarity of Cuba in Lombardy is not an exception, but rather the rule. In 2015, 37,000 Cuban doctors were cooperating in 77 countries. Medical support to other nations started in 1960, with the sending of doctors to Algeria. And, as many African and American (like Haiti) nations know well, despite the inhuman and illegal United States economic blockade against them for more than 60 years, island support at the time of major disasters has been crucial in defeating plagues and diseases.
Cuba is the country with the greatest demand for medical tourism on the planet. Its government has trained, in 13 schools of medical sciences and 25 faculties, highly qualified doctors and health personnel. Currently, more that 63,000 young people study medicine. But that experience in the formation of professionals is not limited to national boundaries. The Latin American School of Medicine welcomes students from 122 countries. Each year, 1500 scholarship students enroll there.
This Caribbean nation is very far from being a streetlight and the darkness of your home. To the contrary, its Cuban health model shines throughout the world. By allocating resources not where they have the highest price, nor where there is the most demand, but rather based on popular and sovereign priorities, health occupies a key place in the state budget.
Promoted from the first moment by Fidel Castro, the Caribbean health experience, oriented to guaranteeing the right to the health of its inhabitants and far away from profit and commercialization, has garnered transcendental achievements, such as the vaccination programs for newborns and small children, the maternal and child care system, with strict control over the indicators from pregnancy, which have made possible a low infant mortality rate and an increase of life expectancy.
And, beyond its pedagogical or health care experience, this nation has developed in depth biotechnology research and, in the opposite direction, established a pharmaceutical industry that has produced a surprising quantity of state-of-the-art drugs and vaccines, key to caring for different diseases.
Few countries have displayed the solidarity that Cuba has given in the face of the coronavirus crisis. From the first moment, its doctors provided health care in Wuhan, China. The Chinese authorities used interferon alpha 2B, a drug made on the island as a tool for treating the disease, together with 30 other medications.
When different nations closed their doors to the British MS Brarmar cruise ship because five passengers on board were sick with Covid-19, Havana allowed it to dock. As Abel Prieto (https://bit.ly/2QNJZP1) recalls, in less than two weeks, as support for the pandemic containment strategy, 11 Cuban medical brigades have been moved to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Surinam, Italia, Granada, Jamaica, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, San Vicente and the Grenadines, Dominica and Santa Lucía, and soon, to Angola.
The worst and the best of humanity have emerged in the face of Covid-19. On the one hand, large corporations in the pharmaceutical industry have found in the crisis a window of opportunity to do a lot of business, while scavenger hoarders profit from the tragedy without any scruples. On the other hand, with deep humanism, governments, peoples and communities put cooperation, dignity, ethics, mutual aid and solidarity ahead to confront the evil. Without a doubt, the health colossus that is the little socialist Cuba occupies a privileged place among the second group. There is an urgent need to end the criminal punishment that it suffers.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee