Cuban doctors arrive in Liberia to fight Ebola alongside U.S. troops

by Reuters
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:58 GMT

A tent, part of a field hospital set up for training purposes, is pictured in the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, where Cuban doctors train for their Ebola mission, in Havana, Cuba, October 17, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

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Cuba is sending the largest medical contingent to West Africa from any country in the world

By James Harding Giahyue

MONROVIA, Oct 22 (Reuters) - A plane carrying some 50 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Liberia on Wednesday to help treat victims of Ebola in the West African country, where a U.S. military mission is also deploying to fight the deadly virus.

An Air Cubana jet carrying the 51 medical staff touched down at Monrovia's Roberts International Airport. Another group of around 40 doctors from the communist-led Caribbean island were due to arrive in neighbouring Guinea on Wednesday.

A top Cuban health official has voiced hope that collaboration in fighting Ebola could help thaw relations between Cuba and the United States, long-time adversaries.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry singled out the Cuban effort in West Africa for praise last week.

Cuba is sending the largest medical contingent to West Africa from any country in the world. Cuban authorities have trained 461 doctors and nurses but so far only 256 have been sent on missions, which are scheduled to last six months.

The first group of 165 doctors and nurses deployed to Sierra Leone at the start of October. The final 205 medical staff remain in Cuba awaiting an assignment which will depend on funding from the United Nations, an invitation from the host countries and suitable infrastructure on the ground as determined by the World Health Organization.

The United States is sending 3,000 military engineers, medical personnel and other troops to the region to build Ebola Treatment Units and help train local medical staff to use them.

The communist-led Caribbean island has sent medical brigades to disaster sites around the world since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Cuban and U.S. personnel have worked together before, notably after the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

Besides medical diplomacy, Cuba sends doctors overseas in exchange for money or goods, notably Venezuelan oil, making professional services a top export earner. More than 50,000 Cuban medical personnel are posted in 66 countries.

Nicknamed as the "army of white robes", and citing a long history of Cuban medical missions in Africa and elsewhere, the doctors told Reuters in Havana before deploying that they felt a sense of duty to fight Ebola and were willing to assume the risks.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Havana; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by David Lewis)

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