217 Cuban healthcare workers on their way to SA to help combat coronavirus
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Havana - Cuba sent 217 healthcare
workers to South Africa on Saturday, the latest of more than 20
medical brigades it has sent worldwide to combat the coronavirus
pandemic, in what some call socialist solidarity and others
The Communist-run country has sent around 1,200 healthcare
workers largely to vulnerable African and Caribbean nations but
also to rich European countries such as Italy that have been
particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has urged
nations not to accept Cuba's medical missions on charges it
exploits its workers, which Havana denies. But the calls have
largely gone unheeded as overwhelmed healthcare systems have
welcomed the help.
Cuba, which has confirmed 1337 cases of the virus at home
and 51 deaths, has one of the world's highest number of doctors
per capita and is renowned for its focus on prevention,
community-oriented primary health care and preparedness to fight
"The advantage of Cuba is that they are a community health
model, one that we would like to use," South African Health
Minister Zweli Mkhize told a news briefing earlier this month.
South Africa has recorded 4,361 cases, including 86 deaths,
with 161,004 people tested for the virus as of Saturday.
The country has a special relationship with Cuba, which
supported the fight against apartheid - a conflict that
included Cuban troops who fought and died in southern Angola.
After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he
repeatedly thanked revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
The "Medical Brigade" arriving in Johannesburg on Sunday on a special SAA flight include family physicians, epidemiologists, biostatists among others, Cuba's embassy in SA wrote on
%%%twitter https://twitter.com/hashtag/Covid_19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Covid_19. See the Embassy Press Release in: https://t.co/lpEd3wl1VA #Cuba #BloqueoNoSolidaridadSi pic.twitter.com/UPt6s9yUSu
— EmbassyCuba_in_ZA (@EmbassyCubaZA)
"These are times of solidarity and cooperation. If we act
together, we can halt the spread of coronavirus in a faster and
more cost effective manner," Cuba's ambassador to South Africa,
Rodolfo Benítez Verson, said in a statement.
Cuba has sent its “armies of white robes” to disaster sites
and disease outbreaks around the world largely in poor countries
since its 1959 leftist revolution. Its doctors were in the front
lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti and against ebola in
West Africa in the 2010s.
Cuba also exports doctors in exchange for cash, often
sending them to remote, impoverished locations where local
doctors do not want to work.
Medical services exports are its top source of hard
currency, ahead of tourism or sugar, despite the governments of
Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador sending their Cuban doctors packing
in recent years after shifting to the right.
Cuba has more than 37,000 health care workers in 67
countries worldwide, according to the foreign ministry.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday evening that before departure from Cuba, the medical brigade had been placed in quarantine to ensure
that they minimise any form of exposure prior to coming to South Africa.
"This is despite the
fact that Cuba is one of the countries where the reported Covid-19 infection rate remains
As South Africa, we have taken an additional step which is in line with our lockdown
regulations. This team will be put in precautionary quarantine as they await their test results.
"We will also use this period to fully induct them into the South African situational analysis
and the various provinces they will be deployed to.
Once this process is concluded, His Excellency, President MC Ramaphosa together with
other Ministers will formally welcome the medical brigade to South Africa and also confirm
their allocation to different provinces.
"We express our sincere appreciation to the Ambassador of Cuba, HE R B Version and his
team in South Africa that have greatly assisted in the coordination of this mission. We have
no doubt our public health facilities will benefit from this generous and selfless gesture by
our Cuban brethren," Mkhize said.