GENEVA, Switzerland, Monday September 15, 2014 – As the deadly Ebola virus continues its relentless rampage in West Africa, Cuba is sending 165 medical professionals to help battle the outbreak that has now claimed more lives than all previous outbreaks of the disease combined.
Next month, a team of Cuban doctors, nurses and infection control specialists will travel to Sierra Leone to begin a six-month assignment.
The move by the communist Caribbean country comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) says new cases in West Africa are increasing faster than the capacity to manage them.
Director of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, said: “If we are going to go to war with Ebola we need the resources to fight.
“I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known.
“Cuba is world-famous for its ability to train outstanding doctors and nurses and for its generosity in helping fellow countries on the route to progress,” Dr Chan added.
Cuban doctors have been sent to a range of countries, from Algeria to South Africa, and hundreds of Cuban medical workers were deployed to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Among Havana’s established overseas medical initiatives is an extensive eye surgery programme in Venezuela.
Late Venezuela President Hugo Chavez chose Cuba for his cancer treatment, and the communist island is widely recognised for its cutting edge cancer procedures and research.
The Cuban health workers deployed to West Africa will be confronted with new challenges in the face of an outbreak of disease that has killed more than 2,500 people in recent months and infected over 5,000.
WHO officials say the number of people affected is likely to be much greater than current estimates suggest, moreover, and have forecast as many as 20,000 cases.
Of the six affected countries, the death toll remains highest in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In the latter country, reports indicate there is not a single bed left to treat patients with Ebola.
After a recent trip to the region, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr Tom Frieden warned that the Ebola outbreak is much worse than official figures show and is “spiralling out of control.”