In the throes of coronavirus Italy Cuban doctors arrived to help, are considered heroes. The Cuban government refers to them as the main source of foreign currency.
They were greeted as heroes: 52 Cuban doctors landed at the airport in Milan, the Italians welcomed with applause, some even cried. From Milan, the doctors immediately went to Cremona and other cities in the Lombardy region is to help Italian colleagues to fight the epidemic of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
In mid-March the government of Italy most affected by the coronavirus, said that needs help. Cuba is considered a formal request for assistance in a short time. According to the world Bank, per thousand population of Cuba accounts for about 8 doctors. In Italy, where the virus has spread rapidly, doctors and medical personnel are sorely lacking. “Cooperation with other countries in the fight against COVID-19 is a form of mutual assistance”, and the Cuban doctors – “a good example of our solidarity,” reads the page of the Cuban Ministry of public health on Twitter.
Cuban doctors – the main source of foreign currency to Havana
However, sending its medical personnel in the crisis regions, the Cuban authorities are guided not by altruism. For official Havana the work of doctors abroad is part of the foreign policy of Cuba. Since the days of Fidel Castro’s “medical diplomacy” is considered a kind of ideological tool and should contribute positively to the image of the country abroad. In addition, the work of doctors and nurses has become one of the most profitable exports of the Cuban economy and a major source of revenue.
According to the United Nations Conference on trade and development (UNCTAD), the annual foreign currency earnings from Cuban medical services abroad is almost 11 billion US dollars. For comparison: in 2018, Cuba’s exports of such goods as raw sugar, tobacco, Nickel, rum, amounted to about $ 3 billion.
Mainly Cuban doctors working in Africa and Latin America. The government argues that the currency earned by doctors abroad, is to improve the national health system. However, keep track of exactly where the money goes, it is impossible.
To help overcome the epidemic of Ebola and coronavirus
In 2014, the world health organization (who) praised the work of Cuban doctors in West Africa during the fight against the Ebola virus. Cuba was the first country that expressed readiness to send its medical personnel to the affected areas and has sent more than 460 health workers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – the countries most affected by the epidemic of Ebola. 165 Cuban doctors worked on the direct instructions of the who.
“Who was a very positive experience with the Cuban doctors during the Ebola epidemic, says an expert on Cuba, Burt Hoffman (Bert Hoffmann) from the Institute of Latin American studies, GIGA. The Cuban brigade quickly mobilized and acted very efficiently.”
During a pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 the demand for physicians from the island of Freedom, apparently, too high. According to Cuban authorities, the assistance turned to them for more than 40 countries. Currently, medical staff from Cuba to help fight the spread of coronavirus in 31 countries, including Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica and Grenada. In Europe, the example of Italy, which first asked for help from Cuba in the fight against COVID-19, followed by Andorra.
In the meantime, maybe in the near future and most of the Cuban health system have a test of strength: the number of cases COVID-19 on the island in early April exceeded 200 people, six died.
Cuba criticized for forced labor doctors
Meanwhile, international human rights organizations draw attention to the difficult working conditions of Cuban doctors in the framework of foreign programmes. In October 2019, the US state Department imposed sanctions against the official Cuban officials responsible for the working conditions of doctors working on behalf of the government abroad.
In an official statement of the state Department the work of the Cuban medical international mission was called “exploitation” and “forced labour”. “Doctors are forced to work long hours without rest in an insecure environment and with limitation in movement. The Cuban regime seized their passports and watched them after work,” – said in the document.
Concern about the working conditions of Cuban medical workers was expressed by the special rapporteurs of the UN on contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking. In a letter sent in November 2019 in the official Havana, said that the work of Cuban doctors abroad can be equated to forced labour.
Why Cuban doctors want to work abroad?
But despite this, the Cuban doctors willing to travel to work in other countries. For them it means the possibility of earning compared to the money they receive at home. Although the medical profession is considered in Cuba one of the highest paid, the average salary is about $ 70 a month. For comparison, a liter of cooking oil costs about 2.5 dollars, and a liter of milk – half dollar. Work in international missions, according to the German Agency dpa, brings doctors from 300 to 900 euros.
After the end of the international mission, not all Cuban doctors return home. And then “heroes”, they become “deserters”. Doctors who decide to stay abroad, it is forbidden to return to Cuba for the next eight years, in addition, they lose the right to earned during the mission the money is transferred exclusively to the Bank accounts inside Cuba.