Much to the chagrin of the Trump administration, Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade — a brainchild of the late Fidel Castro — has assisted more than 60 foreign nations on medical missions, even U.S. officials attempt to circumvent such collaborations with assertions that the Cuban government exploits its doctors.
In recent weeks, hundreds of Cuban doctors, trained in facilitating community-level medical aid during public health emergencies, have stepped up to assist their fellow health care workers around the world in their fight to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in their respective countries.
As American health care workers struggle to protect themselves and flatten the curve, especially in communities of color with significant health disparities, an international assortment of Pan-African, leftist academics, journalists, attorneys and organizers have called on U.S. lawmakers to join other nations, including their allies, that have made such arrangements with the Cuban government.
“While confined to their homes glued to their televisions, computers and cellphones, families and communities inside U.S. borders have witnessed French parliamentary leader Andre Chassaigne urge his government to join those who have requested Cuban support,” said a letter addressed to the White House, U.S. House and U.S. Senate that Obi Egbuna Jr. of the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association circulated on April 10.
The two-page letter, titled “Get Out Cuba’s Way,” demanded that the U.S. government allow the Henry Reeve International Medical Bridge to assist domestic hospitals and clinics, train health care workers and collaborate with the American Medical Association (AMA), National Medical Association and Black Nurses Association.
Another demand involved the use of Interferon Alpha 2B, a treatment developed by Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology that’s been deemed effective against COVID-19.
“Fifty-two Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Italy to treat their citizens who have contracted the COVID-19/SARS-COV-2 pandemic,” the letter said. “These developments come on the heels of the Governments of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaching a diplomatic agreement with Cuba, which resulted in a cruise ship docking on their shores where established health measures were successfully implemented.”
More than 100 people and entities have endorsed the letter, including the Sankofa Homeschool Collective, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the Rev. Willie Wilson, Marc Lamont Hill of Temple University in Philadelphia, Samia Nkumah of the Kwame Nkrumah Pan African Center in Accra, Ghana, and veteran activist Dorie Ladner, formerly of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Currently, the United States currently surpasses all other countries when it concerns the severity of the pandemic’s impact. As of Tuesday, there have been nearly 600,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus nationwide and more than 24,000 deaths.
In a number of cities states, Black people — at a higher risk because of underlying medical conditions and lack of health care access — have experienced the brunt of the coronavirus. This has particularly been in the case in the District, as well as the urban centers of Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and New Jersey.
Despite the six-decade embargo that some Cuban officials said has complicated efforts to acquire life-saving medical supplies, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health has recorded less than 650 cases and less than 20 deaths since reporting its first case in early March. Public health officials tie these outcomes to a medical program that prioritizes prevention and the immersion of doctors in Cuban communities.
A U.S. health care professional who chose to remain anonymous reflected on the free medical education he received in Cuba and what he described as the Cuban government’s penchant for preventative health care. He told The Informer that the United States has much to gain by integrating its medical and public health responses in a continuum.
“Public health and medical science are not separated. It’s often one body,” said the health care professional, currently in the third year of his residency. “In Cuban medical programs, our public health education starts in the first year. We went inside the communities campaigning, knocking on doors and bringing health care to the community.
“Cuba’s health care system could teach us a lot about decreasing health disparities,” he said. “Even if it’s just Cuban doctors coming here and discussing theory, the U.S. medical system could learn a lot.”