GRANMA: On April 12, Cuban health collaborators fighting Ebola in Africa returned home‏

Apr 21, 2015 by

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On April 12, Cuban health collaborators fighting Ebola in Africa returned home after completing their epidemiological monitoring period

Like the hero returning home from a deadly war, alive and victorious, out of danger breathing a deep sigh of relief over the shoulder of his wife, his child’s cheek, his crying mother who embraces him once again, and won’t let him go, was how these sons of Cuba who combated the terrible scourge of Ebola in Africa, returned home on April 12.

: Homecoming reception in Bayamo for doctors and nurses from the province of Granma, recently returned from Africa.
Photo: Dilbert Reyes Rodríguez

The eagerly awaited encounter lasted only a few minutes, during which joy turned in to tears and long embraces, expressing more than words ever could. Although there were some gestures that said it all, like the unbridled cry of “Dad!” or a long awaited kiss.

In the capital, Mercedes López Acea – member of the Communist Party of Cuba Political Bureau, a Council of State vice president, and first secretary of the Party in Havana – accompanied the families in welcoming the first group of collaborators to return home after completing their epidemiological monitoring quarantine period.

During the encounter, which took place in the Fragua Martiana, additionally attended by colleagues from the Henry Reeve Contingent, López Acea stated, “Here, at this homecoming celebration, we feel a mixture of satisfaction, humanism, patriotism and pride for what you have done in these sister lands…

Saving lives, even at the cost of sacrificing your own, is a act of altruism which only people, true humanists, are able to turn into feats as extraordinary as the mission they have recently completed.”

Over these days we have experienced moments of great joy and satisfaction, of feeling what it means to be Cuban; and of the unquestionable sense of patriotism, which was defended by the Cuban delegation at the 7th Summit of the Americas, for all of you present here.

Over these 56 years of Revolution, Cuban doctors have been an extraordinary example of humanism, internationalism and genuine feelings of solidarity, bringing to life the ideas of Martí, she commented.

BACK HOME

Cuban doctors spared no effort in attempting to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Now they have returned home to their families, mission accomplished. PHoto: Ramón Barreras Valdés

In Granma the welcome reception – held by the statues ofCéspedes and Perucho Figueredo which adorn Bayamo’s Revolution Square – for the doctors and nurses from the province, was quick and intense.

Without ceasing to caress the little boy in his arms, nurse Fabián Diego Smith, described his participation as an expression of gratitude, “It was a task which we completed, as requested; we are back safe and alive, but also victorious. I, a nursing graduate, am a product of this society which prioritizes the health of the people, those here and anywhere else. That is why I stepped forward when we were called upon. This makes a grateful revolutionary.”

32 year old Niorge Matamoros, also a nurse, felt Cuba’s name reverberate in Sierra Leone, “We exalted it, and received the appreciation of many people who, although they didn’t speak our language, made their feelings known to us anyway they could, in a note, a look, a smile, as reward for saving their lives.”

Also speaking in the name of Cuba and on behalf of his colleagues, Dr. Ángel Mejías, an Internal Medicine specialist based in Liberia, stated, “We were the first to arrive and show that the way to combat Ebola was at the patient’s side.

After implementing our protocol, seeing ourselves make progress, well protected, but fighting, together with the nurses, we began to receive requests for various other missions in other countries. We were truly a paradigm.

In Villa Clara, members of the Henry Reeve Contingent were honored.
Photo: Ramón Barreras Valdés

“Obviously we feared for our lives. Religious or not, all of us prayed before entering the red zones, but no one took a single step back and every day we confirmed the human and altruistic sentiment of our medicine.”

“The names of the people we saved don’t matter,” said Fabián, after the embraces. “If we learned anything it was that every individual’s life is precious, no matter where. It is true that there was death there, from the moment we stepped foot on African soil to the day we got back on the plane, we knew we might not return alive, but we went because of our principles…and here we are.”

In Cienfuegos, Omar Suárez Alba a nursing graduate, related his experience as part of the army of white coats and reiterated the willingness of specialists to carry out any task to strengthen health services.

It was a difficult job, he stated, because in Sierra Leone, with six million inhabitants, only 35% of whom know how to read and write, the population had to be informed of the dangers of the illness, that the infection was easily spread and the importance of receiving help, he added.

After a wait filled with emotion, pending embraces and kisses, the three collaborators who spent almost six months in African nations arrived in Sancti Spíritus, where a multitude awaited them, enveloping them in applause on their arrival to the Martyrs Memorial nestled by the Central Highway, in cars adorned with Cuban flags, where they placed a floral wreath in memory of the sons of the land of Yayabo who fell in the struggles for Cuban independence.

Miguel Sacerio Caballero, Puerto Rican Hindu doctor; Francisco Prada Morales, nursing graduate; and Julio César Gómez Ramírez, nursing graduate from the Anesthesiology department at the Camilo Cienfuegos provincial hospital, received a warm welcome charged with the excitement of their return and the satisfaction of having helped, at the risk of their own lives, to reduce the number of deaths caused by the epidemic in several countries, predominantly Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry, where Cuban medical brigades from the Henry Reeve Contingent were working until recently.

In his speech during the reception, Juan Luis Marcelo Pentón, provincial director of Health in Sancti Spíritus, praised the work of these three men, a true expression – he said – of the solidarity of the Cuban people, who actively contributed to the training of personnel, together with professionals from developed countries such as Britain, Italy, Sweden, the African Union and even the United States. He dedicated heartfelt words to Jorge Juan Guerra Rodríguez and Reinaldo Villafranca also from Sancti Spíritus, who both died while fulfilling the honorable mission.

In Villa Clara the Cuban collaborators were honored with a provincial distinction, awarded to people and institutions that have won respect among the inhabitants of Villa Clara, as well as an award in recognition of their completing the mission.

Dr. Juan Carlos Dupuy Núñez, who headed the brigade working in Liberia, recalled important moments during their stay, and expressed gratitude for the reception given to only a section of the more than 250 collaborators who offered their services in the three most affected countries: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry where other health professionals from the province still remain.

“Cuba – he said – was the first county to respond to the call made by the United Nations and WHO with human resources, and at that moment we didn’t know what we would be facing, but human instinct and the solidarity shown by this land overcome all obstacles.”

The people of Liberia loved us a great deal, they said that if you went to the Cuban doctors you would be saved, stated Dr. Ronald Hernández, from Las Tunas, to AIN, who also highlighted the excellent training and knowledge demonstrated by Cuba’s professionals.

Dr. Enrique Ortiz, also from Las Tunas, recalled their arrival to Liberia on October 22, 2014, and noted that a great love and trust toward the Cubans developed within the population.

For nursing graduate, Camilo Puga, the first days in Sierra Leone were very hard, as the collaborators had to deal with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees and uncomfortable hermetic protection equipment. Now home in Las Tunas, Camilo had the great pleasure of meeting his little daughter Carolina, who was born in the municipality of Colombia, a few days after he arrived in Sierra Leone.

Leosvel Pérez Gutiérrez, from the municipality of Vertientes, Camagüey, stated that the experience was extraordinary and one which he will never forget, because in addition to having the opportunity to save human lives, they faced an invisible enemy, which could have claimed him as its next victim, and commented that with death so close you learn to look at the world in a different way.

The homecoming receptions in all regions were led by the most senior provincial authorities of the Party, government and health sector.

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