The 217 Cuban healthcare workers sent to South Africa to assist with the fight against Covid-19 touched down in the country in the early hours of Monday.
Cape Town – The 217 Cuban healthcare
workers sent to South Africa to assist with the fight against Covid-19 touched down in the country in the early hours of Monday.
The group is the latest of more than 20
medical brigades Cuba has sent worldwide to combat the coronavirus
pandemic, in what some call socialist solidarity and others
The group consists of:
• experts in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics, and public health;
• family physicians to guide interventions through door-to-door testing and to assist local health workers in health promotion and disease surveillance at the community level;
• healthcare technology engineers to assist in maintaining the inventory, deployment and repair of aged medical equipment; and
• experts to provide technical assistance working with local experts.
The South African Airways plane carrying 217 Cuban medical professionals touched down in South Africa in the early hours of Monday. Video: GCIS
Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was part of the ministerial committee who welcomed the team on their arrival at the Waterkloof air base. She told the group their arrival on the day South Africa was celebrating Freedom Day was of special significance.
“If I had my way, I would be leading you in a song, a popular South African song which says … How shall we thank you Cubans,” Mapisa-Nqakula told the group.
Cuba 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 US President Donald Trump has urged
nations not to accept Cuba’s medical missions on charges it
exploited its workers, which Havana denied. But the calls have
largely gone unheeded as overwhelmed healthcare systems have
welcomed the help.
Cuba, which has 1 337 confirmed cases of the virus and 51 deaths at home, 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 Cuban medical brigade was sent to South Africa after discussions between President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Díaz Canel Bermúdez of Cuba. Video: GCIS
“The advantage of Cuba is that they are a community health
model, one that we would like to use,” Health
Minister Zweli Mkhize told a news briefing earlier this month.
South Africa has recorded 4 546 cases, including 87 deaths,
with over 160 000 people tested for the virus as of Sunday.
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.
South Africa sent medical supplies to Cuba to assist in the
fight against coronavirus in the plane that is now returning
with the Cuban medical brigade, Cuba’s embassy there wrote on
The Cuban health brigade arriving in South Africa on Monday morning. Picture: GCIS
“These are times of solidarity and co-operation. 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.
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.
* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL’s special #Coronavirus page.
** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za