The director of Cuba’s Instituto de Medicina Tropical Pedro Kouri http://instituciones.sld.cu/ipk/ has given an interview to Miami’s Radio Marti about his country’s actions to prevent an Ebola outbreak. What is interesting is that the broadcaster requested the interview—and that the Cuban official was willing to talk to what the Castro government perceives as a counterrevolutionary mouthpiece. http://www.martinoticias.com/content/en-cuba-12-personas-estan-bajo-observacion-por-sospecha-de-ebola/77414.html
Dr. Jorge Perez Avila said that Cuban authorities were monitoring airports and sea ports and to identify any travellers who may have had contact with those infected with the virus. He also gave an interview to Reuters news agency, in which he said that all travellers from the affected countries were being sent to the institute for at least 21 days of observation, and that to date 28 people from Sierra Leone, Congo, Nigeria and Cuba had been quarantined.
“If you don’t want to be observed, no problem. You have the right to go back to your country, but not to come into mine,” he said. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/18/us-health-ebola-cuba-idUSKCN0I702D20141018
The Instituto de Medicina Tropical Pedro Kouri was founded in 1937 and for several years has had joint research projects with Harvard University http://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/instituto-de-medicina-tropical. It is also where the Cuban medical teams sent to West Africa undergo three weeks of training, but some observers have questioned their preparedness. Last week the Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/articles/cuba-stands-at-forefront-of-ebola-battle-in-africa-1412904212 quoted an Australian World Health Organization (WHO) officer who observed the recently arrived Cuban medical professionals who “watched in concern as the Cubans swapped hand-clasps, pats on backs and other potentially hazardous displays of physical affection. Public health officials warn Ebola can spread on contact, with the virus carried in bodily fluids like sweat.” The officer said she would be “explaining why they have to stop shaking hands and sharing things.”
The New York Times has an editorial praising Cuba’s response to the Ebola outbreak: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/cubas-impressive-role-on-ebola.html?_r=1
It is the ultimate overseas hardship post and it seems tragically inevitable that not everyone will return home. Cuba has sent 165 healthcare workers to Sierra Leone to help fight the Ebola outbreak, and another 296 are going to Liberia. It’s a move that is earning good will for the Castro government, but one which raises lots of questions.
The Christian Science Monitor has this story: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2014/1015/Cuba-to-the-rescue-Ebola-stricken-countries-welcome-Castro-s-doctors
Cubanet, the independent Cuban news outlet, reports that those health professionals going to Sierra Leone and Liberia were informed that they would not be repatriated should they become infected with the disease. http://www.cubanet.org/noticias/medicos-cubanos-tendrian-que-comprometerse-a-no-regresar-si-enferman-de-ebola/ The story quotes one doctor who backed out after being asked to sign a document to this effect, but it is not clear whether this simply means that Cubans stricken with Ebola will not be allowed to travel or whether those who recover from the virus will also be banned from ever returning. According to the report, the Cuban health professionals are being paid more than their colleagues working in Brazil’s More Doctors program (which is paid for by Brazil and the Pan American Health Association, with the Cuban government receiving a portion of these funds).
Certainly Cuba is in no shape to deal with Ebola at home, though the country has plenty of experience with epidemics in the past. Sherri Porcelain, a professor of global public health at the University of Miami, has written that while Cuba has an “advanced epidemiologic surveillance system with highly skilled scientists and dedicated health professionals,” the country’s deteriorating infrastructure makes it vulnerable to disease outbreaks. She writes
Cuba’s current challenges with cholera, dengue, and its viral relative, chikungunya, are good examples. Cholera and dengue continue to spread throughout the island, while the Cuban government claims that all the reported cases of chikungunya have been imported to the island from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Update on Chikungunya Fever in the Americas (August 8, 2014), Cuba has officially reported 11 imported cases with no suspect or confirmed locally acquired cases since the start of the outbreak in the Americas. http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/FOCUS_Web/Issue222.htm