“In the medical response to Ebola, Cuba is punching far above its weight,” the Washington Post wrote on Saturday.
While the rest of the world has been accused of “slacking off” in the global effort to combat Ebola, Cuba, a country of 11 million, has become a central provider of medical expertise in the Western African nations grappling with the disease.
On Thursday, 165 Cuban health professionals arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone to join the international campaign to contain and treat Ebola. The group was the largest contingent to arrive from any foreign country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). After receiving training to deal with the virus, approximately 296 Cuban doctors and nurses will be dispatched to Liberia and Guinea.
Cuba´s assistance compares to the lack of, by wealthy countries such as the United States, which recently announced it would send troops, but not doctors. Reuters reported that Cuba has more than 50,000 doctors and nurses stationed in 66 countries worldwide, including more than 4,000 in 32 African nations.
According to the Washington Post, it’s Cuba’s low cost public health care system that enables the country to massively export its health services.
The benefits of a low cost health system are evidenced by comparing the relatively poor country to how people fare in wealthier countries. An OECD study published in 2013 found that while people in the U.S. pay the most out of any OECD nation for healthcare, U.S. life expectancy has fallen since the 1970s, to 76 years. Meanwhile, Cubans live an average of 77 years, longer than many countries.
A WHO study on Cuba’s primary health care system conducted in 2008 noted that the country had made great strides in certain health indices. In 2004, for instance, there were seven child deaths per 1000 children aged less than five years, down to one-seventh of the child death rate from 40 years ago.
“These indicators — which are close or equal to those in developed countries — speak for themselves,” Gail Reed noted, reporting for the organization from Havana.