111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Cuban response to coronavirus pandemic — I

Since the eruption in late 2019 in China of Coronavirus (re-named COVID-19) many developing countries’ healthcare system is strained to near-collapse. Creditably, China has succeeded in controlling and ‘flattening the curve’ of the virus, and, now Cuba, another socialist nation, has stepped in purposefully after invitations from many nations. Today, the Cuban health care ‘brigades’ are on ‘internationalist missions’, which Fidel Castro once described as Cuba’s ‘army of white coats.’

Cuban health sector is well developed, a priority of Fidel Castro’s mid-20th century Revolution that placed the island-nation in spotlight of Cold War geopolitics. According to Cuban Foreign Ministry in a statement sent to Newsweek. ‘Health is an issue of utmost importance for Cuba, which is why we defend the right of all human beings to receive quality medical care. Therefore, solidarity is a principle defended by Cuba and our people during more than 60 years of Revolution.’

After the 1959 Revolution, Cuba’s socialist state developed a free, universal healthcare system attaining more doctors per person than any other country in the world. This has been facilitated by free, universal access to education at all societal levels. As an act of ‘international solidarity,’ some 400,000 Cuban medical professionals have worked overseas in the last six decades – mainly in developing countries.

After the Coronavirus casualties started mounting in Italy in March 2020, Cuba dispatched a field hospital in Lombardy (northern Italy), the epicenter of virus with health-care workers. The Cuban nation is also involved in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica and Grenada in relief efforts.

Cuba, a small Caribbean island of nearly 11 million and about 90-miles east of US, is a Communist society – heavily dependent upon outside tourism. It has been the bête noire of all US administrations – facing repeated US sanctions and embargoes in strangulating the economy.

Despite a poor developing country, plagued by shortages of all kinds — a product of the economy’s structural flaws and effects of 60 years of economic embargo it is somehow better positioned than most other nations in the Western hemisphere to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. This is because it combines a socialized medical system and guaranteed health care with impressive biotech innovations.

More importantly, it has developed a far better track record of protecting own citizens from emergencies and natural calamities than other poor nations — and even some rich ones. Its ‘comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck’ hurricane-preparedness system for example, is quite notable. In 2016, the Hurricane Matthew killed dozens of Americans and hundreds of Haitians but not a single Cuban died. At the time, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, pointed out that’s “an awesome thing for a country of 11 million people to be sending doctors to Africa to fight Ebola. And it’s a similarly awesome thing for Cuba to be sending doctors to Italy as part of a worldwide effort.”

Helen Yaffe, a writer on Cuba in her recent book, How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World (Yale University Press: 25 Feb 2020) has remarked to Newsweek  how “a small, Caribbean island, under-developed by centuries of colonialism and imperialism and subject to punitive, extraterritorial sanctions by the United States for 60 years, has so much to offer the world.”

Cuban’s sustained military involvement in Africa (1960-2000) saw sizeable relief work by construction workers, agricultural specialists, teachers, doctors, nurses and urban planners in many African countries. For instance, Angola and Ethiopia are prime examples of military and civic aid. Its experience with Ebola and other epidemics in Africa, physical blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean with Operation Miracle, and cholera in Haiti are other examples.

Twenty-six Cuban brigades from the Henry Reeve helped during difficult times in Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, among others, with contingents of doctors and medical staff and those specialized in disaster management.

Recently on March 18, 2020, the Cubans undertook a humanitarian mission with gesture of ‘international solidarity’. This was when a British cruise ship, MS Braemar, with five Coronavirus cases onboard was allowed to dock on the island. Earlier, many Latin American nations had refused to allow the ship to dock on their ports for fear of spread of the pandemic. Hence MS Braemar  docked in Port Mariel – the site of boatlift of refugees that fled the island in 1980 to the US. The Cuban health workers carried out the risky, day long operation of transporting more than 600 cruise ship passengers to the runaway at Havana’s airport – where four chartered planes carried them to England. This earned adulation from the British ambassador, Anthony Mathew, in Havana when he remarked: “I am very grateful to the Cuban government for allowing this operation to move forward.”

In Brazil, Cuban doctors were warmly welcomed for years by then ruling Workers’ Party. But that began to change with the far-right demagogue, Jair Bolsonaro in power. On assuming office, he expelled most of the Cuban doctors from the country, insisting that they were in Brazil not to heal the sick but ‘to create guerrilla cells and indoctrinate people.’’ He dismissed the idea that Coronavirus posed a serious threat to public health as a ‘fantasy.’ But lately, he is asking them to return and renew relief operations.

Bernie Sanders, an independent member of the US Senate who caucuses with the Democratic Party, was red-baited and slandered by both Republicans and establishment Democrats for acknowledging the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. Despite Sanders starting and ending his comments by calling the Cuban government ‘authoritarian’ and ‘keeping political prisoners’ his critics seemed to judge his comments by, what is called the ‘Narnia Standard’ [ sort of fantasy]


DR MAQSUDUL HASAN NURI, "Cuban response to coronavirus pandemic — I," Business Recorder. 2020-06-18.
Keywords: Social sciences , Coronavirus pandemic , Medical care , Medical Professionals , Caribbean island , Cuban revolution , British cruise , Brazil , England , Pakistan , Indonesia , Mexico , Ecuador , Peru , Chile , US , MS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *