Revolutionary Cuba has sent 256 health workers to Liberia, Guinea-Conakry and Sierra Leone — more than any other nation — to combat the deadly disease. Another 205 trained volunteers are ready to head to West Africa as soon as conditions permit. More than 15,000 Cubans offered to join the internationalist mission.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 14,000 people have been infected with the virus and as of Nov. 9 about 5,160 have died.
The capitalist press has taken note of the unparalleled response by Cuba. “Cuban Doctors at the Forefront of Ebola Battle in Africa” the front-page headline in the Oct. 9 Wall Street Journal said.
The Cuban brigades have become part of the debate in the U.S. capitalist class on whether or not Washington should adjust its more than 50-year state policy of using a punishing economic embargo as the centerpiece of its efforts to crush the Cuban Revolution.
The New York Times, representing a minority view in the ruling class, argues that the embargo of Cuba is ineffective. An Oct. 19 editorial said the Cuban mission against Ebola should be “lauded and emulated.” A Nov. 10 editorial entitled “In Cuba, Misadventures in Regime Change” argued that to “loosen the grip” of what the editors call “one of the most repressive governments in the world” — the goal of both sides in the propertied rulers’ debate — can be better accomplished “through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”
The dominant wing of the ruling class however, has no intention of letting up the pressure on Cuba.
“Cuba is winning accolades for its international ‘doctor diplomacy,’” anti-Cuban op-ed columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote in “Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors” in the Nov. 9 Journal. She calls Cuba’s internationalist mission “the perfect crime,” saying that “by shipping its subjects abroad to help poor people, the regime earns the image of a selfless contributor to the global community even while it exploits workers and gets rich off their backs.”
O’Grady is unable to fathom that Cuban health workers — who don’t get the princely salaries that U.S. doctors expect as a right — are volunteering not for money but out of solidarity.
She says nothing about Washington’s relatively meager aid to the fight against Ebola. As of Nov. 10 there were some 2,000 U.S. troops in West Africa, building 17 medical clinics. Military.com reported that the first of the centers, which is only for health care workers who get Ebola — and the only one that will be staffed by U.S. government personnel — “has yet to take in any patients.”
Like other capitalist governments, Washington is unable to adopt the kind of social measures Cuba is using to prevent Ebola from spreading to the island or elsewhere.
Cuba fights Ebola’s spread
All the Cuban volunteers agreed to be part of the mission for at least six months. To ensure that the disease does not spread, any Cuban volunteer who contracts Ebola will be treated in West Africa, and will not return to Cuba until they are cured. The Cuban health workers, and anyone else passing through the nations hard-hit by Ebola, must spend 21 days in quarantine when they arrive in Cuba.
These measures are similar to what Cuba did in fighting the AIDS epidemic. In the 1980s and early ’90s, Cuba combined widespread testing, education, distribution of condoms and high quality medical care with a quarantine on everyone who tested positive. Today Cuba has one-sixth the AIDS rate of the U.S.
Washington has refused to quarantine medical workers returning to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients, although some state governments have. Instead, it recommends “self-monitoring” for symptoms.
France-based Doctors Without Borders, the largest nongovernmental organization treating Ebola patients, is also opposed to the quarantine. “Excessive strictures could deter would-be field staff from going to West Africa,” to volunteer for four- to six-week stints, the group said in a statement on its website.
The U.S. Defense Department began placing U.S. soldiers returning from West Africa in quarantine Oct. 29. President Barack Obama backs the military command’s quarantine decision, saying the soldiers are “not treating patients. They are not there voluntarily.” But he is opposed to this approach for civilian doctors and nurses who treat Ebola victims.
For Cubans, steeped in the revolution’s tradition of internationalism since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959, supporting a quarantine and other social measures that can prevent the spread of the disease are second nature.
“With pride and without looking back, we’ve entered the battle with courage, altruism and straightforwardness,” José Eduardo Díaz Gómez, a Cuban volunteer in Guinea, recently wrote to family and friends in Cuba. “This brigade of titans will only return to the homeland when our mission has been completed.”
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