South African President Cyril Ramaphosa demonstrates greeting by elbow to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Courtesy of Trice Edney News Wire)
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa demonstrates greeting by elbow to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Courtesy of Trice Edney News Wire)

An emergency contingent of 216 Cuban doctors arrived in South Africa on Sunday, April 26, to assist health care officials in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.

Dr. Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s health minister, announced Sunday that the country up to that date had registered 4,546 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with the death toll at 87, The South African reported. A total of 161,004 people had been tested for the virus as of Saturday.

The members of the so-called “medical brigade” include Cuban family physicians, epidemiologists, biologists, health care technology experts, engineering experts, biotechnology experts and other specialists, the Cuban embassy announced in a statement.

“In response to the request made by the government of the Republic of South Africa, the government of Cuba has decided to support the great efforts that are currently made by South Africa in containing and arresting the spread of the coronavirus,” said Cuban ambassador Rodolfo Benítez Verson. “They will be deployed in different provinces of the country in accordance with the strategic plans elaborated by the Department of Health.”

In the past, the Caribbean island nation has availed its “armies of white robes” to assist largely poor countries in the world in fighting epidemics, including the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

According to, Cuba, which has confirmed 1,337 cases of the virus and 51 deaths, has one of the world’s highest number of doctors per capita and has been lauded for its focus on prevention, community-oriented primary health care and preparedness to fight epidemics.

“Cuba has already thousands of health professionals in 21 countries across the globe to assist in the fight against COVIS-19,” the embassy said in its statement.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has urged countries not to accept Cuba’s medical missions on charges that it exploits its workers, which the country denied.

“The advantage of Cuba is that they are a community health model, one that we would like to use,” Mkhize told a news briefing earlier in April.

South Africa sent medical supplies to Cuba to assist in the fight against the coronavirus in “the plane that is now returning with the Cuban medical brigade,” Cuba’s embassy in South Africa tweeted.

“These are times of solidarity and cooperation. If we act together, we can halt the spread of coronavirus in a faster and more cost-effective manner,” the ambassador added.

In late March, Mkhize revealed that foreign doctors — along with medical students who have graduated from the Nelson Mandela-Fidel Castro Cooperative Programme — were already operating in South African clinics and hospitals.

Medical experts from China have also offered assistance to South Africa in studying the spread of the virus, issuing advice on social distancing regulations, hygiene and sanitation.

China also sent thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to South Africa on April 13 to assist health care workers on the front line. The PPE received thus far and the batches that are currently on order amount to an estimated R800 million ($42.5 million).

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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