Sunday, May 24, 2020

3373. Cuba Has Sent 2,000 Doctors and Nurses Overseas to Fight Covid-19

Ed Augustin, The Nation, May 22, 2020
Cuba has sent more than 2,000 doctors and nurses to 23 countries since the crisis broke.
As the novel coronavirus encircled the globe, tearing through health care systems, heavily affected countries sent out pleas for doctors. One small, downtrodden island answered the call.
Cuba has sent more than 2,000 doctors and nurses to 23 countries since the crisis broke.
Emergency medical response teams from the island have touched down in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and—for the first time—Europe. In March, the first batch of 51 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Lombardy, Italy, at the time the epicenter of the pandemic, to cheering crowds.
They join the 28,000 Cuban health professionals who were working in 59 countries prior to Covid-19.
No other country has sent large numbers of doctors abroad during the pandemic. The radical intellectual Noam Chomsky last month described the island as the only country to have shown “genuine internationalism” during the crisis, and the women-led anti-war organization Code Pink is now leading calls for the island’s emergency medical response teams to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But these medical brigades have received little media attention in the United States. When they are commented on at all, coverage is usually negative.
In fact, for the last three years, the Trump administration has described doctors participating in these missions as “slaves” and has accused the Cuban government of “human trafficking.” At the same time, Trump officials have suggested that tens of thousands of those “on mission” are not doctors at all but regime henchmen deployed to “sow political discord” and spread the virus of communism. Cast in this light, Cuban doctors are at once victims and oppressors.
Stories in major media outlets paint a similar picture. Cuba’s medical collaboration is portrayed as Machiavellian, reduced to a PR ruse to deflect attention from Cuba’s internal human rights violations, a means of projecting soft power, or a way of meddling in other countries’ affairs.
And while it is sometimes granted that the medics themselves improve health outcomes in poor countries, the Cuban government is alleged to exploit these doctors by “pocketing” most of their earnings.
Such depictions never include the voice of the Cuban doctors who work in these missions. Over the last couple of months, I’ve spoken to dozens of doctors before their departure. Their words cut sharply against this picture.
“How can I be a slave if I receive a free education from my country?” asked Dr. Leonardo Fernández, who has served in Nicaragua, Pakistan, East Timor, Liberia, and Mozambique. “How can I be a slave when my family receives my full salary while I’m abroad? How can I be a slave when I have constitutional rights?”
Dr. Gracilliano Díaz, a veteran of the campaign against Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014, dismissed with Caribbean cool the idea that he is a victim of trafficking. “We do this voluntarily,” he said with a lilt. “It doesn’t matter to us that other countries brand us as slaves. What matters to us is that we contribute to the world.”

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