Cuba has sent a brigade of doctors and nurses to Italy over the weekend, for the first time, to help in the fight against the new coronavirus at the request of the most affected region in the European country, Lombardy.
The Caribbean island has sent its “army of white coats” to disaster sites around the world, mainly in poor countries, since the Revolution triumphed in 1959. Its doctors have been on the front lines of fighting cholera in Haiti and Ebola in Africa over the past decade.
But with this brigade of 52 doctors and nurses, it is the first time that Cuba has sent an emergency contingent to Italy, one of the richest countries in the world, demonstrating the scope of its medical diplomacy.
This is the sixth medical brigade that Cuba has sent in recent days to combat the spread of the new disease abroad. The country has sent contingents to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada.
“We are worried but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfill, so we take our fear and put it aside,” Leonardo Fernandez, 68, an intensive care specialist, told Reuters on Saturday, shortly before the brigade left.
“He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors”.
Fernandez said this would be his eighth international mission, including one to Liberia during the fight against Ebola.
Italy is the nation that has been most affected by the new coronavirus originating in China, with the northern region of Lombardy bearing the brunt of the contagion.
The number of deaths there climbed Saturday by 546 to a total of 3,095, according to its health chief, Giulio Gallera, who requested the support of Cuban doctors.
“We are going to carry out an honorable task, based on the principle of solidarity,” said Graciliano Diaz, 64.
Cuba has one of the highest ratios of doctors per inhabitant in the world even when those on missions abroad are excluded, and its medical brigades for disaster relief continue to generate goodwill towards the island worldwide.
“In a time of crisis, the government and people of Cuba have risen to the occasion, heard our call and responded,” Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton said Saturday as he welcomed 140 Cuban medical personnel to Kingston International Airport.
The United Kingdom also thanked Cuba last week for allowing a British cruise ship that had been refused entry to the island by several Caribbean ports to dock there, thus facilitating the evacuation to the European country of more than 600 passengers on board.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean country, known for its disaster preparedness, is strengthening domestic measures to contain the spread of the virus.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced Friday that the country would close its borders to non-resident foreigners as of Tuesday.
Thousands of doctors and medical students are going door-to-door, monitoring local communities.