When the Ebola virus began to spread through western Africa in fall 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over 20,000 people were infected, more than 8,000 had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurses and 62 doctors as volunteers to Sierra Leone. With 4,000 medical staff (including 2,400 doctors) already in Africa, Cuba was prepared for the crisis before it began: there had already been nearly two dozen Cuban medical personnel in Sierra Leone.… Since many governments did not know how to respond to Ebola, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without being infected. It was the first time that many had heard of Cuba’s emergency response teams.… The Ebola experience is one of many covered in John Kirk’s new book Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism.
Cuba is remaking medicine in a remarkable diversity of cultures in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Its efforts go far beyond providing medical care to other parts of the world as a Western approach might limit itself to doing. The Cuban project develops bilateral agreements with host countries to rethink, redesign, and recreate medicine.
A revolution can only be successful when the new generation takes over from the old. When thousands of students come together because of their dedication to helping others at a school that was built to allow them to fulfill their goals, the ground is fertile for students to continue the struggle.… Students are assuming defining roles at the Latin American School of Medicine (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina or ELAM), the twelve-year-old medical school in Santa Fe, Playa, a ninety-minute bus ride from Havana, Cuba. With their educational costs covered by the Cuban government, students learn new social relationships in medical practice that they will use in underserved communities in their countries.