The Fight against Ebola: a History of Cuban Medical Collaboration

In the memory of many Cubans, and especially of our collaborators, the images are fresh when they would honour their homeland with their internationalist vocation


Photo: Internet.

By Carlos Heredia Reyes


No matter how many pay tribute to these Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians who have fought Ebola in West Africa, the gratitude of our country and humanity will always be greater for these medical professionals, who have rescued from death tens of thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly.

A documentary entitled Por la vida by colleague Niurka Dámaris, of Cuban television news services, and the commemorative 60th anniversary commemoration of the Granma Landing are among the most recent awards to those members of the "Henry Reeve" international medical contingent specialized in the face of disasters and great epidemics.

This force was created by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro on September 19, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina' scourge of New Orleans, when 10,000 Cuban doctors volunteered to help the American people, which was not accepted by the US government.

But from that moment on its members, divided into brigades, would be present in dozens of countries, in emergency situations. We were to face a practically unknown epidemic, classified as highly dangerous. A rigorous examination was conducted in the provision of personal protective equipment. With that outfit on it transpires on average one loses more than a litre of liquid in an hour and it was imperative that our companions adapted to wearing the suit," explained Dr. Jorge Delgado Bustillo, deputy director of the Central Medical Cooperation Unit and who served as chief of the brigade who served in Sierra Leone.

He reported that the 400 selected to fulfil the mission met several requirements: to have previous experiences in the profession and in other internationalist missions; master the English language; and obtain the endorsement by the knowledge of the good management of the means of security, granted by the international organisms.

Also, said the specialist, there was a chemoprophylaxis to prevent personnel from endemic diseases in Africa, mainly malaria, caused by vectors. As a result of the preparation, 256 collaborators started in October in three groups: 165 for Sierra Leone, 53 for Liberia and 38 for Guinea Conakry.

In the memory of many Cubans, and especially of our collaborators who faced the epidemic, images are fresh when in those nations, those most affected by the deadly virus, they attended the sick, many of whom they saw dying despite the attempts and efforts to save their lives.

Tearful testimonies have already been included, as shown in the documentary on Cuban television, new stories are known about the tragic days in which only humane detachment, the will to grow in the face of difficulties, the high professional level and the political and ideological formation in each one of these doctors, nurses and technicians, gave strength to honourably fulfil the mission entrusted, one of the most difficult, risky and impressive assumed by the Homeland.

Although since the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba's internationalist assistance in the field of health is an inevitable and permanent principle in its foreign policy, demonstrated by the presence of medical professionals in dozens of nations of the world struck by epidemics and , the clash with Ebola in West Africa put high the prestige of the largest of the Antilles, a country blocked by the main power of the world.

In the figure of the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon; The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, and the governments and peoples of Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry and Liberia, came the expressions of recognition and infinite thanks to the Cuban doctors who fought the virus.

But we cannot forget the anguish lived here between the end of 2014 and the middle of 2015, when, at the request of the UN and the WHO, the Henry Reeve contingent came "face to face", in direct contact with the Infected, the epidemic, which forced to maximize the hygienic and epidemiological measures, for the sake of the safety and survival of our health personnel.

Since arriving in the affected countries, and without even recovering from the trip, they were in the so-called "red zone", assisting thousands of infected.

That heroic attitude, at the risk of contracting the disease and of dying, would only be assumed by our doctors, thanks to their humanistic, internationalist and ethical training, and unfortunately not those of other nations that also joined the fight, but well apart or, as some governments did, to provide nothing but material but no human help, vital for saving lives and curbing the spread of the virus.


Translated by ESTI





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