Cuban doctors boosting COVID-19 medical diplomacy

The coronavirus outbreak may be overwhelming the healthcare system in many countries, but Cuba has so many doctors it’s been sending them to help abroad.

Known as an ‘army of white coats’ – Cuban medics have been deployed to nearly 40 countries across five continents since the pandemic began – offering a type of medical diplomacy that far outweighs its stature as a small Caribbean nation of 11 million people.

They are providing essential services in places like Peru, which has the highest death rate from COVID in the world. Cuban Doctor Juan Pablo Falcon says it’s clear they are needed.

''Cuban doctors come to help. We don't want to replace anyone's job. To be honest, this country needs doctors. In spite of doctors training every day, doctors are needed, and experienced health workers are needed so that they are able to train younger health workers.”

Since its 1959 leftist revolution, Cuba has been sending its medics to help in disasters and disease outbreaks such as Ebola in West Africa and cholera in Haiti.

President Donald Trump’s administration launched a mission against Cuban medics in recent years, citing exploitative labor conditions.

Though Cuba experts say while some of the U.S. criticism is legitimate - Paul Hare former British ambassador to Cuba, who lectures at Boston University's Pardee School of Global Studies, says most of the world looks favorably on Cuba's medical diplomacy.

"Before some bigger countries who then realized there were public diplomacy advantages in offering equipment and personnel such as China and Russia and other European countries.

So, the Cubans showed themselves, prepared and droit in deploying cargoes very quickly. The question is whether this will be a long-term advantage for them beyond the pandemic and elsewhere, but Cuba is seen very differently in most countries' eyes from how the U.S. administration.”

Cuba has reported just 4,684 cases and 108 deaths so far: a tenth of the global average per capita. While Cuba has a surplus of medics, there’s a shortage of food and medicines in the country. Its economy has been badly affected by a lack of tourists since COVID, a drop in aid and a U.S.embargo on visitors and commerce.

But its medics are seen as heroes by both Cubans and the people they're helping abroad.

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