Cuba pledges more doctors, nurses to fight Ebola in Africa

The announcement Monday by Cuba that it will send an additional 91 medical staff to help contain the Ebola virus outbreak surging across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea brings the island nation’s contribution of people fighting the epidemic to 256 – or more than one-third of all foreign medical staff in the three hardest-hit West African countries.

The new pledge by Cuba’s minister of public health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, came in Havana during an extraordinary summit on Ebola. The 91 include 53 doctors and nurses who will be sent to Liberia and 38 to Guinea; 165 Cuban health care workers already are in Sierra Leone.

David Nabarro, the United Nations special envoy on Ebola who was in Havana for the meeting, told McClatchy that the new Cuban teams are scheduled to leave Tuesday for Liberia and Guinea.

Cuba’s contribution of people to fight the outbreak has drawn outsized attention as the world health system struggles to find the resources to combat what is becoming one of the most serious public health crises in a generation. The World Health Organization’s director, Margaret Chan, called the Cuban doctors and nurses “a most welcome face of hope to what is otherwise a horrific outbreak.”

WHO spokesman Dan Epstein said the organization has deployed about 600 health care workers to the three most affected countries since the start of the outbreak.

WHO still needs more medical professionals to travel to the three countries, Epstein said. “The needs are quite high,” he said, calculating that WHO needs 25 international staff and 200 local medical workers for each of 40 Ebola treatment centers it’s hoping to open soon.

According to the Pan-American Health Organization, WHO’s office in the Western Hemisphere, the Cuban government has trained 460 doctors and nurses on the strict precautions that must be taken to treat people with the highly contagious virus.

Epstein said the United States has pledged to send 65 commissioned public health service corps officers and 100 staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the three countries. The U.S. also has committed to send 3,000 U.S. service personnel to run labs and build treatment centers.

Other countries that have sent medical professional include Canada, China, Russia, Uganda and the United Kingdom, Epstein said.

WHO is negotiating with Germany, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines for additional medical professional, he said.