Cuba's Role in the Ebola Crisis

October 13, 2016

The recent Ebola outbreak has triggered world wide panic about the possible spread of the deadly virus. Now, with people infected in the US and Spain, countries are mobilizing to send doctors and nurses to West Africa in order to stop the spread of Ebola at its source. One of the countries at the forefront of this mobilization is Cuba. The Cuban government has sent over 165 trained medical professionals, including doctors and nurses trained by the World Health Organization, and are sending another 91 medical professionals as of October 21st.1 Many of these trained professionals have worked in areas experiencing a health crisis including Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. Before the outbreak of Ebola, Cuba already had 4,000 medical staff stationed across Africa working on basic health practices.

This is not the first time Cuban healthcare workers have aided in world health crises. When Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans, Cuban officials were ready to send doctors to affected regions but the US declined their offer. In an article written by Raul Castro and published on October 9th, the Cuban president said that Cuba “should try to avoid the politicization of this serious problem which distracts us from the fundamental objective: helping to stop the epidemic in Africa and stop it from spreading to other regions." He stressed that Cuban health professionals are willing to work closely with workers from all countries including the US.2  

John Kerry lauded Cuba’s efforts in a recent statement but old habits are hard to break and the US has not officially accepted Cuba’s offer to work together in West Africa. While this issue is complicated by the US trade embargo, the US also disagrees with why many Cuban health officials go to foreign countries. In the case of aiding the sick in Venezuela, the Cuban government received currency and oil from Venezuela in exchange for their medical help. This type of exchange program creates large amounts of income for the island and is an attractive way to generate income. This further causes diplomatic problems for many countries, especially the US.1Although Cuba is willing to work with medical staff from the US, there may not be anyone to work with since the US is sending 4,000 military personnel and not specifically trained health professionals, like Cuba.

Even though the US is not yet willing to acknowledge Cuba’s role in the fight against Ebola, Cuba is at the forefront of tackling this epidemic. They are one of a few countries willing to send medical personnel, who have signed an agreement not to come back to the island if they become infected, essentially risking their life to help stop the spread of the virus.3 Cuba is setting an example for other, more developed, countries to put forward their best and brightest to stop Ebola. As Raul Castro noted in his article, “the hour of duty has arrived,” and so far, Cuba is the only one to step up.2


1. Castillo, Patrick Oppmann and Mariano. "In Ebola Fight, Cuba Flexes Medical Diplomacy Muscle." CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/21/world/americas/cuba-ebola-diplomacy/index.html>.

2. Castro, Raul. "Duty Calls." Granma. N.p., 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. <http://www.granma.cu/idiomas/ingles/cuba-i/19octubre-articulofidel.html>.

3. The Editorial Board. "Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/cubas-impressive-role-on-ebola....

About Author(s)

Sophia Winston
Sophia Winston is a Spanish and Urban Studies major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is also pursuing a certificate in Latin American Studies and a minor in Portuguese. She has spent a semester abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is currently a senior.