The 25 volunteers in the team to Aceh, Indonesia, treated wounds, infections, respiratory diseases and also psychological shock behaviors, said Miguel Ramírez, Cubas ambassador to Indonesia, in a March 5 phone interview.
Nineteen doctors, two nurses, an electro-medical engineer, and two experts in a Cuban-produced rodenticide for use against rats made up the team, said Ramírez. They were based in the Walubi camp, run jointly by the Air Force and a Buddhist NGO [non-governmental organization] near the Banda Aceh airport.
The work was difficult but they are accustomed to working in difficult conditions, Ramírez said. Many were veterans of internationalist missions, providing health care in working-class communities and rural areas in Africa and Latin Americaincluding Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
The scene in Aceh was really devastating, and they are still discovering new corpses, said Ramírez, who traveled there to help set up the Cuban aid operation. Thousands of bodies were still in the streets when I was there, waiting to be buried. The land near the beach had been completely flattened.
The December 26 tidal waves, which were triggered by an undersea earthquake near the coast of Indonesia, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and wreaked devastation on coastal communities and cities in a number of countries.
Of all the regions in the tsunamis path, Aceh suffered the greatest destruction and loss of life. The New Zealand Press Association news service reported from Indonesia that as of February 20, up to 750 bodies are still being recovered daily in the province, with some estimating the local toll will exceed 200,000. As in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and other countries that were hit, the death toll and destruction in Indonesia were amplified many times by the underdevelopment that is part and parcel of imperialist domination of the region.
In Sri Lanka, the Cuban volunteer team set up a temporary clinic in Galle, 70 miles from Colombo, the capital. Granma International, an English-language weekly published in Havana, reported January 25 that the team consisted of 16 doctors, two nurses, two hygiene experts, three specialists from Labiofam (a Cuban medical laboratory) and an engineer responsible for the generator. The article noted that Galle was severely damaged and it is still not known how many of its 80,000 inhabitants died as a result of the disaster.
The response by revolutionary Cuba to a disaster in a region many thousands of miles from its shores is not out of the ordinary. Tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses are currently volunteering around the world. More than 15,000 Cuban medical personnel are now in Venezuela as part of the Barrio Adentro program, which offers quality health care in working-class neighborhoods across the country that have had little or no access to medical care in the past.
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