Cuban doctors proud to risk lives in mission to halt Ebola

Tue Oct 21, 2014 2:19pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban doctors and nurses departing for West Africa to combat Ebola consider themselves lucky. Among the 15,000 who volunteered, they are among only 256 who have been chosen for the job.

"There have been fights breaking out, heated arguments, with some doctors asking, 'How come my colleague gets to go and I can't?'" doctor Adrian Benitez, 46, said on Tuesday just hours before he was due to board a plane for Liberia.

Despite a global alarm over the worst Ebola outbreak on record, Cuban doctors are eager to travel to West Africa and start healing the sick.

Nicknamed as the "army of white robes" and citing a long history of Cuban medical missions in Africa and elsewhere, they speak of a sense of duty and are willing to assume the risks.

"We know that we are fighting against something that we don't totally understand. We know what can happen. We know we're going to a hostile environment," said Leonardo Fernandez, 63. "But it is our duty. That's how we've been educated."

The Ebola virus has killed more than 4,500 people since March, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The numbers include more than 200 healthcare workers.

Some Cuban 165 doctors and nurses have already arrived in Sierra Leone and another 91 were flying on Tuesday for six-month missions, with 53 destined for Liberia and 38 for Guinea.

Yet another 205 medical professionals have undergone a three-week training course in Cuba, with extensive practice in using the protective, full-body suits, but have yet to receive an Ebola assignment.   Continued...

Cuban doctor Leonardo Fernandez, 63, who departs tomorrow for Liberia posses for a picture in Havana  October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa