Cuba and Ebola

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:

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. 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.