Home South African WATCH: Cuban medical brigade arrives in SA

WATCH: Cuban medical brigade arrives in SA


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

medical diplomacy.

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.

Picture: GCIS

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 

Video: GCIS