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The politics of Cuba, Africa and the coronavirus

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 4/30/2020, midnight

Just this week, the virus has been announced in all African countries but Lesotho and Comoros, and we can anticipate those last two will get infections within a short time. The big explosion of infections and death have still not occurred in the gigantic continent yet.

Why, is still a bit of a mystery, although in South Africa, Egypt Morocco, and Algeria, the four countries with the largest infections and deaths so far, the news of the arrival of the virus has been met with iron-fisted governmental action to close down public gatherings, to begin broad testing and tracing protocols, and consistent public pronouncements and commercials about hand washing, mask-wearing, etc. Africa has not been asleep while the rest of the world has been twisting and turning in the vise of the virus.

Another positive aspect of Africa’s response, particularly starting this week, is the presence of over 200 Cuban doctors arriving in South Africa to help with all the required protocols. Cuba has committed to sending over 1,000 of its doctors to 22 African countries to assist in fighting the coronavirus and other maladies. Togo, Cape Verde and Angola are included on that list.

This kind of medical assistance is not new for Cuba. The country has been utilizing its medical personnel as a foreign policy arm since the early 1960s. The Castro regime saw it as a necessary and important way to make friends, attack colonialism (France and other outgoing colonial powers would regularly extract all of their medical personnel, equipment, books and resources from African countries coming into independence), and simply help. Currently, Cuba has sent over 42,000 doctors and medical staff to at least 103 countries around the world, particularly in Latin America and Africa.

Cuba also has a great medical school program in the country, and annually accepts foreign students into its Cuban doctor training programs, often for free. It has become an excellent resource to prepare African medical personnel for service in their own countries.

It does not hurt that Cuba, itself, as a small island nation, is also handling the virus quite handily so far. Given its heavy tourist trade, one would expect Cuba to already be swamped with virus infections and deaths. But that is not the case. Out of a total island population of 11,200,000 (a population just slightly larger than Los Angeles County at 10,118,759), Cuba thus far has only 1,437 reported cases of the virus, with 575 people who have recovered, and 58 deaths.

In addition, although nothing is perfect, Cuba has a world class medical system in spite of the half-century long U.S. boycott and sanctions, which former POTUS Obama started disintegrating, but Mr. Trump re-imposed.

Cuba is the only country in the world to have developed a vaccine against meningitis, it has developed a vaccine for lung cancer (currently being tested for use), and is the first country to develop a viable procedure to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child (recognized worldwide by WHO in 2015 for the achievement).