Cuba sent 216 healthcare workers to South Africa on Saturday, the latest of more than 20 medical brigades it has sent worldwide to combat the coronavirus pandemic, in what some call socialist solidarity and others medical diplomacy.
The Communist-run country has sent around 1,200 healthcare workers largely to vulnerable African and Caribbean nations but also to rich European countries such as Italy that have been particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has urged nations not to accept Cuba’s medical missions on charges it exploits its workers, which Havana denies. But the calls have largely gone unheeded as overwhelmed healthcare systems have welcomed the help.
Cuba, which has confirmed ,1337 cases of the virus at home and 51 deaths, has one of the world’s highest number of doctors per capita and is renowned for its focus on prevention, community-oriented primary health care and preparedness to fight epidemics.
“The advantage of Cuba is that they are a community health model, one that we would like to use,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a news briefing earlier this month.
South Africa has recorded 4,361 cases, including 86 deaths, with 161,004 people tested for the virus as of Saturday.
The country has a special relationship with Cuba, which supported the fight against apartheid – a conflict that included Cuban troops who fought and died in southern Angola. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he repeatedly thanked revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
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