FORMER UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s “bitter disappointment” with the tardiness of the developed world in responding to the current Ebola epidemic will strike a chord with millions.
Who could deny that “if the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently?”
Irresponsible actions in the US private health system aside, Annan is surely correct that “the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe.”
That’s if the Ghanaian Nobel Peace Prize recipient was referring to the international community in its present misappropriated guise as the US and its closest allies.
TV audiences in Britain could be forgiven for believing that international aid is confined to US and British military personnel arriving in west Africa to build medical facilities, alongside representatives of Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Thursday’s early morning BBC World News did let slip that medical teams from China were also there, but that’s it.
Morning Star readers know the impact that socialist Cuba has in not only deploying 50,000 health professionals in 66 developing countries but in sending its teams immediately when crises erupt.
Cuba dispatched 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone as soon as Ebola struck, promising that this total would rise swiftly to 461, dwarfing the humanitarian response of any other country.
President Barack Obama is sending 4,000 troops and pledges $400 million to finance a dozen 100-bed hospitals, but, as welcome as such gestures may be, the greatest need is skilled medical personnel.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three most affected states, have suffered unbearable losses among their dedicated health workers.
Commentators point out that these countries lack developed healthcare systems without asking why.
Former British colony Sierra Leone and its US equivalent in all but name Liberia were both used as dumping grounds for ex-slaves by their colonial masters and were impoverished by exploitation of their natural resources by British and US transnational corporations.
Guinean independence leader President Sekou Toure so enraged French president Charles de Gaulle by refusing to join the neocolonial Franco-African Community that Paris practised a scorched-earth policy when withdrawing from its colony.
Its officials descended to removing all the light bulbs from government offices to hamstring the development of independent Guinea.
Colonial powers’ indifference to the welfare of their former subjects has been jolted only by the realisation, as Annan says, that it is impossible “in this interconnected world” to isolate Ebola in west Africa.
Official British inability to acknowledge the role of Cuba has, perhaps surprisingly, not been mirrored in the US media, which has drawn attention to the disparity between the respective efforts of Havana and Washington.
The Christian Science Monitor noted Washington’s pledge of $400m for the emergency, but it contrasted this with World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Margaret Chan’s comment last month.
“Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” she said.
“We need most especially compassionate doctors and nurses … working under very demanding conditions.”
This stance was underlined by Dr Jose Luis Di Fabio, who represents the WHO and Pan American Health Organisation in Cuba.
“You have to identify patients, diagnose patients and treat patients. If you don’t have the human resources to do that, you don’t have anything, he told CNN.
“Human resources in Africa is the major thing that’s lacking.”
CNN was given unparalleled access by the Cuban authorities to the intensive training programme in a mock field hospital that volunteers undergo before flying to west Africa.
“Our principle has been to share what we have and not to give what we don’t,” Pedro Kouri Institute for Tropical Medicine director Dr Jorge Perez Avila told CNN in Havana.
“The little we have, we share. Our principal resource is human capital.”
Dr Perez said that the medical staff, 15,000 of whom have offered themselves, have “the courage and valour to volunteer and have signed consent forms.
“We have instructed them how not to get sick, but they are at great risk. It is our hope that none of them get sick. We have the conviction that perhaps a few will fall ill but the majority will not.”
The new US media approach to Cuba coincides with a New York Times editorial last Saturday which noted that the UN general assembly will pass judgement once again on October 28 on the US blockade against the island.
It urged Obama to use the Summit of the Americas being held in Panama next April as a platform to announce an end to the blockade.
The NYT motives are clearly in the interests of US farmers and industrialists denied the chance to trade with Cuba, but revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was sufficiently impressed to reprint almost all the editorial in his regular Granma column.
The blockade costs Cuba’s economy just under $4 billion a year, around 8 per cent of its national budget, but it has maintained its global solidarity programme.
An end to the blockade and better bilateral relations could enable the island to do even more and could encourage US citizens to demand that their government matches Cuba’s principled response to global emergencies.
This article by John Haylett originally appeared in the Morning Star