Jorge Perez, director of the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, where Cuban doctors train for their Ebola mission
Cuban medical staff and U.S. military personnel could team up to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
“We are going to work side by side with anybody who is there, and our health minister said in his speech that includes the Americans,” said Jorge Perez, director of the disease hospital where the Cuban doctors train for their Ebola mission, on Friday.
“Why wouldn’t we if we are scientists? In this instance we are friends,” added Perez, Reuters news agency reports.
Cuba has sent more doctors and medical staff to fight Ebola than any other country in the world: 165 doctors and nurses are in Sierra Leone and another 296 are due to depart for Liberia and Guinea next week, while the U.S. is sending 3,000 military engineers, medical personnel and other troops to the region.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama authorized an executive order to send members of the National Guard to help stop the spread of the epidemic.
Media commentators and healthcare experts have criticized Obama’s extreme military response to the outbreak, which has already killed more than 4,500 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Earlier on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Cuban effort in the fight against Ebola.
“We are seeing nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the front lines. Cuba, a country of just 11 million people, has sent 165 health professionals, and it plans to send nearly 300 more,” he told diplomats at the State Department.
Jorge Perez said he received a “boost” from the comment and he believed Kerry was pressing other countries to follow Cuba’s lead.
Asked if the U.S. and Cuban efforts could improve diplomatic relations, Perez said, “I think it could, and I think it’s important.”
Cuba and the U.S. have been locked in diplomatic conflict since 1962, when the U.S. declared an economic embargo towards the island.
However, both countries have also worked together on other natural disasters, notably after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
After Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans in 2005, Cuba offered to the U.S. to send 1,600 medical staff to help. Then President George W. Bush refused Cuba’s help.
“When it comes to Cuba, we have one message for Fidel Castro: He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom,” said the White House spokesperson Scott McClellan on that occasion, turning the humanitarian emergency into a politic issue.
Cuba is known for the expertise of its doctors and their great efforts in humanitarian missions. More than 50,000 Cuban medical personnel are posted in 66 countries.