[WSMDiscuss] After Covid - 19, We Should All Be Cuba

Subhash Gatade subhash.gatade at gmail.com
Tue Apr 7 08:26:21 CEST 2020

After Covid-19, We Should All Be Cuba
The pandemic has exposed wealthy states’ neglect of healthcare. A new
medical internationalism is needed.
Subhash Gatade <https://www.newsclick.in/author/Subhash%20Gatade>

07 Apr 2020


Rare are those photographs which can be declared iconic right after they
are taken, without awaiting the approval of the connoisseurs, critics or
people. It is an ordinary-looking photo, of a large team of people, dressed
in white robes, disembarking from a plane and being welcomed by someone
wearing a white coat too. Take a closer look at the frame and you will note
a mood of jubilation among the people who are watching them from the
airport’s lounge.

The photo is of Malpensa airport at Milan, an alpha-global city recognised
so far as one of the world’s four fashion capitals and the capital of North
Italy’s Lombardy region. Today, it has also come to be known as a hotspot
of Covid-19 infections, a site where thousands have died of the infection.
The picture we are talking about is of 52 doctors and nurses from Cuba who
arrived in Italy on invitation from the regional Italian minister of health
and welfare, Giulio Gallera.

Italy, ironically, has been party for a long time to the economic sanctions
imposed by the United States on this tiny Caribbean nation with a
population of around 1 crore (10 million). The sanctions have been declared
“illegal” by the United Nations time and again. But the anti-humanitarian
attitude of the Italian ruling classes could not stop Cuba from sending its
medical team there to combat Covid-19. Media reports tell us that Italy
happens to be the sixth country—after Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica,
Suriname and Grenada—on the current itinerary of Cuban medical teams flying
around to fight the pandemic.

As the world battles the pandemic, the “mighty ones” are finding themselves
at a loss. Even the US President Donald Trump has felt compelled to change
his tone and accept that the death toll from Covid-19 could quickly cross
almost a quarter of a million. He has warned Americans to prepare for a “very,
very painful two weeks
<https://www.ft.com/content/ce4098c9-8d34-4036-9a84-ca40b0294b88>.” US
hospitals are overloaded with patients and running out of essential
equipment such as PPEs, ventilators and masks. The rapaciousness and
cruelty of the corporates and money-bags is a strong contrast to the tiny
island nation at the forefront of combating the global crisis
Today, and not for the first time, Cuba is winning international praise for
extended support to humanity. This effort by Cuban doctors is a fine
example of what Fidel Castro used to call “medical internationalism”.

Passengers aboard a British cruise ship stranded for more than a week in
the Caribbean—because there had been a surge of Novel Coronavirus cases on
board and no country was allowing them to disembark—were recently allowed
to disembark in Cuba from where they flew home. The hawks in the US
establishment definitely must have seen the photograph—and felt a surge of
rage—of the passengers carrying banners that read “I Love Cuba”.

Reuters said
the incident: “Communist-run Cuba offered a safe haven to the Braemar at
the request of the British government after several other Caribbean island
nations—including Barbados and the Bahamas, which belong to the British
Commonwealth—declined to let it dock.”

The “Cuban miracle” is exceptional for holding health as a basic human
right for all and creating a system which takes care of the sick. It has
transformed the goal of medicine into “privileging the promotion of a
healthy community
investment in health literacy and promotion of healthy lifestyles.” The
roots of Cuba’s miracle lie in how Castro and his comrades, who led the
Cuban revolution in 1959, envisaged fundamental changes in existing health
systems and decided to put people at the centre. The new system created the
family doctor-and-nurse programme which ensured that every neighbourhood
had primary healthcare.

It is a measure of this system’s successes that infant mortality rate in
Cuba is 4.2 per 1,000—the lowest in Latin America and even lower than in
the US—even though its per-capita healthcare expenditure is a fraction of
what the US spends. Cuban medical scientist’s success in developing
“cutting-edge measures to combat diseases ranging from meningitis to cancers
is the other end of this spectrum.

Dr Helen Yaffe, author of We Are Cuba! How A Revolutionary People Have
Survived in a Post-Soviet World and a professor at Glasgow University, has
detailed how Cuba has developed drugs for Covid-19 treatment and vaccine
development. She narrates the history of Cuba’s so-called Army of White
Coats, which has visited disaster sites around the world, largely in poor
countries, since the 1959 revolution
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tEvftk7ZCE&feature=youtu.be>. Cuban
doctors were also on the front-lines of the fight against “cholera in Haiti
and against Ebola in West Africa
the 2010s.”

Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s data tells that since the 1960s more than
6,00,000 Cuban medical professionals have been sent to over 160 countries.
In 2018, approximately 55,000 Cuban medical specialists were working in 67
countries. It has also trained tens of thousands of other professionals
from marginalised regions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the achievements of a
little Caribbean island in the field of global healthcare, but it has also
exposed the ruling elite of the West, who have “blood on its hands
<https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/30/cygn-m30.html>” for cutting
funding for their own healthcare.

The ‘leaders of the free world’, including the United Kingdom, refused to
act to save their people and their healthcare system despite having
“extensive prior knowledge
<https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/30/cygn-m30.html> of the National
Health Services’ catastrophic failings when it tested, in 2016, its ability
to combat a novel virus pandemic. Sources in the governments of these
countries, including the UK, are now admitting that their ‘austerity’
measures after 2008 and cuts to their public health services “resulted in
preventable deaths”.

Theresa May’s Conservative government and the health authorities had held
“Exercise Cygnus” in 2016 to assess the country’s readiness for a novel
respiratory influenza pandemic. Its results were never made public because,
according to The Telegraph, the findings were deemed “too terrifying
<https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/30/cygn-m30.html>” to be
revealed. The government understood, no doubt, that correcting the
situation would require a complete overhaul of how Tories were engaged in
squeezing funding for the NHS. A former government source declares the mood
in which these cuts were made despite strong opposition from doctors and
the public: “Throwing money at the problem was not necessarily the
solution. The NHS eats up money. It’s a bottomless pit … We were in a time
of austerity and it wasn’t easy

This warning for a possible pandemic was not limited to the UK only. Noam
Chomsky explains in his recent interview
Truthout, “Scientists have been warning of a pandemic for years,
insistently so since the SARS epidemic of 2003, also caused by a
coronavirus, for which vaccines were developed but did not proceed beyond
the pre-clinical level.” According to him, neither was any rapid response
system put in place to prepare for an outbreak, nor were initiatives taken
to develop defences. That option, Chomsky says, “was barred by the
pathology of the contemporary socio-economic order. Market signals were
clear: There’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe.”

No doubt this pandemic has suddenly exposed to the world what Chomsky calls
“neo-liberal brutality” of the unconstrained capitalist order and the
“twisted form markets it constructs”.

Today even the US spends hundreds of billions of dollars to purchase
advanced weapon systems to remain engaged in multiple wars, but does not
have the monies to provide its hospitals with ventilators or protective
gear to its doctors and health workers exposed to the virus. The pandemic
is in full bloom now, but once it subsides there must be a rethinking. The
chattering classes of the ‘free world’ should know that it is their
consistent brutal assaults on the social right to healthcare that has
played havoc with the lives of people and led to thousands of “preventable
deaths <https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/06/12/prev-j12.html>”. And
Cuba will still have more lessons to offer.

( https://www.newsclick.in/After-Covid-19-We-Should-All-Be-Cuba)
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