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‘We Have a Revolutionary Duty’: Cuba Deploys Medical Brigade of Doctors Across the World to Fight Pandemic

A 52-member brigade of Cuban medical doctors is on the ground in Europe this week to help in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

For the last 60 years, the Caribbean country has deployed what it calls its “armies of white robes” to assist at disaster sites across the globe, Reuters reports. This past weekend was no different, as an emergency contingent composed of veteran doctors and nurses traveled to Italy for the first time.

Cuban Medical Brigades
The medical brigade, the sixth Cuba has sent in recent days, will head to Lombardy, Italy, one of the regions hardest hit by the virus. (Photo: Al Jazeera video screenshot)

Italy has been one of the nations hardest hit by the fast-spreading virus, with the number of reported cases surging to over 74,000 and more than 7,500 deaths by late Wednesday evening. The northern region of Lombardy has suffered the brunt of the scourge; that’s where the doctors are headed next.

Dr. Leonardo Fernandez, 68, embarked on his eighth international mission Saturday and spoke to the sense of nervousness felt by him and fellow physicians. But he said they won’t let that fear get in the way of their goals.

“We’re all afraid, but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfill, so we take out fear and put it to one side,” Fernandez, an intensive care specialist with the medical brigade, told Reuters.

“He who says he is not afraid is a superhero,” he added. “But we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors.”

The Cuban Medical Brigades have been deployed to dozens of countries in recent weeks to help slow the spread of the disease, despite strict sanctions imposed upon the communist nation by the U.S. One Cuban official argued the years-long embargo stands to hinder its anti-pandemic efforts abroad.

Cuban Medical Brigades
Cuban doctors have been deployed to several nations across the globe including Jamaica and Venezuela. (Photo: Al-Jazeera video screenshot)

“Despite the blockade, Cuban doctors are working in 59 countries around the world, 37 of which have confirmed cases of COVID-19,” the unnamed official said in a statement to Newsweek, adding, “the world can count on more than 29,000 doctors who graduated in Cuba and who, following their training at the Latin American School of Medicine and other Cuban faculties, will do everything in their power to combat COVID-19.”

Cuba has a history of medical diplomacy, and it’s one they take pride in. The island nation was on the front lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti, and was the first country to dedicate hundreds of health care professionals to West Africa during the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak.

Cuban doctors are now working tirelessly to treat patients in Jamaica, Grenada, Venezuela and other nations affected by the novel coronavirus. Figures by late Wednesday evening show the disease has sickened close to 473,000 people worldwide, and that number is continuing to rise.

In addition to medical supplies and much-needed personnel, the Cuban Medical Brigades are also touting what’s been described as an anti-viral “wonder drug” called Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant, or IFNrec. The drug, jointly developed by scientists in Cuba and China, had previously been used to treat HIV, HPV, Hepatitis C and other diseases. Now medical experts hope it’s just as effective in combating “the ‘Rona.”

Cuban biotech expert Luis Herrera Martinez has said the anti-viral drug can prevent “aggravation and complications in patients reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death,” according to Newsweek.

While Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant hasn’t been formally approved to treat the new virus, it has been proven effective at fighting viruses similar to it. The World Health Organization is currently investigating it, in addition to three other drugs, to determine their effectiveness against the virus.

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