BY SETH GALINSKY
“The hour of duty has arrived,” declared former Cuban President Fidel Castro in an Oct. 18 column published in papers throughout the island. Castro called on governments around the world to step up aid to the fight against Ebola in West Africa. Cuba already has 165 doctors and nurses in Sierra Leone, 53 in Liberia and 38 in Guinea-Conakry to treat those infected and to train others to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
Meanwhile, Ebola patient Thomas
Eric Duncan, who died from the disease Oct. 8 in Texas, never had a fighting chance and two nurses were infected as a result of the substandard medical treatment doled out to working people in the U.S., where the health care “industry” is organized for profit. The U.S. government’s bureaucratic response has fostered hysteria and anti-African discrimination, highlighting the incapacity of any capitalist nation to organize an effective social response to the epidemic, either in Africa or within their own borders.
The Cuban volunteer health care workers are the “greatest example of solidarity that a human being can offer, above all when they are not motivated by any material interest whatsoever,” wrote Castro. “We will happily cooperate with U.S. personnel in this task, not in search of peace between two states that have been adversaries for so many years, but for peace in the world, an objective that can and must be attempted.”
David Nabarro, coordinator of the U.N. anti-Ebola effort, told an Oct. 20 Havana summit on Ebola sponsored by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America that Cuba has sent “more than other countries together, it’s an extraordinary contribution.” The summit brought together nine heads of state and health officials from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The same day the New York Times printed an editorial titled, “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola.”
“Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus,” the Times said, and “should be lauded and emulated.”
“While the United States and several other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds, only Cuba and a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed: medical professionals in the field,” the Times said. “Fidel Castro argued that the United States and Cuba must put aside their differences, if only temporarily, to combat a deadly scourge. He’s absolutely right.”
As of Oct. 14 there were more than 9,200 cases of Ebola, overwhelmingly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. More than 4,500 people have died. Many cases go unreported. And the disease is spreading exponentially.
WHO and Doctors Without Borders worked with Cuba’s Pedro Kourí Institute for Tropical Medicine in providing training for the Cuban volunteers before they headed to West Africa, including training on how to put on and remove personal protective equipment.
Patient without insurance refused
Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who arrived in the U.S. Sept. 19 to visit his family in Dallas, died Oct. 8. Duncan was sent home Sept. 25 after going to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s emergency room with a high fever, despite telling staff he had just arrived from Liberia. Two days later he returned to the hospital in an ambulance.
His nephew, Josephus Weeks, told the press that many believe that Duncan was initially turned away because “antibiotics and Tylenol are the standard protocol for a patient without insurance.”
“For the 10 days he was in the hospital, they not only refused to help us communicate with Thomas Eric, but they also acted as an impediment,” Weeks said. “The day Thomas Eric died, we learned about it from the news media, not his doctors.” Duncan died alone.
Two nurses who tended to Duncan also caught the disease, but survived.
The National Nurses United labor union released a statement Oct. 15 after nurses contacted them about the “lack of training and preparation” for health workers at Texas Health Presbyterian.
“No one knew what the protocols were or were able to verify what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn,” the union said.
After three Ebola infections in the U.S., many Democratic and Republican party politicians have called for a travel ban and suspension of visas for travelers from Sierra Leone, Guinea-Conakry and Liberia.
“We’re not going to have community outbreaks of Ebola in the United States,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research in an Oct. 17 interview with the online publication MinnPost. “What absolutely horrifies me is what is going to continue to happen in Africa. That situation is the most dire of all that I’ve seen in my 40-year career.”
“The United States has still not made one hospital bed available to a patient in those three countries,” said Osterholm, who also sharply criticized calls for travel bans. “We need to have people get in and out. … How do we get planes in with resources that are desperately needed?”
The U.S. government’s inept response, media hype and politicians’ demagogy have fueled irrational fear and discrimination against African immigrants.
Staten Island resident Oretha Bestman-Yates was suspended from her job at a local hospital after returning from Liberia July 23. Her supervisors told her to quarantine herself for 21 days before returning to work, which she did.
“I then gave them the doctor’s clearance note and the procedure note,” she told the Militant Oct. 19, but they still won’t allow her to come back to work.
New York resident Chaba Doye, who is originally from Sierra Leone and works as a nanny, went to a health clinic recently because she had the flu. “When the nurse found out I’m from Africa, she took a step back, even though I told her I hadn’t been there in 10 years,” Doye said in a phone interview Oct. 21. “The same reaction in the pharmacy. Like they don’t want to touch my money. I decided to treat myself until the crisis subsides.”
Turning away a patient who needs care is unthinkable in Cuba, where health care ceased being a commodity as a result of the revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959.
From the very first days of the revolution, Cuba provided health care to other nations. In Africa alone, Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Ebola summit, more than 76,000 Cuban volunteers over the years have provided health care in 39 countries. More than 3,300 people from 45 African nations studied to become doctors in Cuba without charge.
Jacob Perasso contributed to this article.
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