Cuban medics arrive in Liberia to fight Ebola

More than 50 doctors land in Monrovia as WHO officials say they hope to develop serum from recovered patients’ blood.

The world's worst Ebola outbreak killed more than 4,500 people across West Africa [Al Jazeera]

Monrovia, Liberia – A Cuban medical team has arrived in Liberia to help tackle the spread of the Ebola virus.

Earlier, the foreign ministry said the 52-member team comprised doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, intensive care doctors, general practitioners, surgeons, pediatricians, intensive care nurses, anesthetists and licensed nurses.

Jorge Fernando Lefebre Nicolas, the Cuban ambassador to Liberia, said the arrival signalled his government’s strong solidarity with Liberia.

He added that Cuba’s commitment was geared towards enhancing the existing ties between both countries and acknowledged that the move would mark the start of medical co-operation between Cuba and Liberia.

The Cuban doctors are expected to be assigned to a newly constructed unit at the unfinished defence ministry facility in Congo Town.

Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, Liberia’s foreign minister, said he was delighted over the arrival of the doctors and that he hoped the development would also help in strengthening the country’s health service.

Another group of around 40 doctors from Cuba were due to arrive in neighbouring Guinea later on Wednesday.

Serum hopes

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said a serum made from the blood of recovered Ebola patients could be available within weeks in Liberia.

Dr Marie Paule Kieny said work was advancing quickly to get drugs and a vaccine ready for January 2015.

“The partnership which is moving the quickest will be in Liberia, where we hope that in the coming weeks there will be facilities set up to collect the blood, treat the blood and be able to process it for use,” Kieny said in Geneva.

While the serum is an important development, it is still unclear how much will be produced and whether it would be able to meet demands.

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has already killed more than 4,500 people, most of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

On Monday, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said if urgent action was not forthcoming, West Africa risked losing an entire generation to the virus.

Cuba has already sent 165 medical professionals to neighbouring Sierra Leone, a larger contingent than most Western countries.

Cuba’s actions brought praise from US Secretary of State John Kerry, while a a New York Times editorial on Sunday praised the island’s “impressive role,” calling the doctors “an urgent reminder … that the benefits of moving swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba far outweigh the drawbacks.”

The country prizes its universal healthcare system and, since 1960, has sent 135,000 health workers overseas for emergency response or to work in underserved communities.

Cuba currently has about 50,000 doctors and nurses working in 66 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, according to the country’s health ministry.

Additonal reporting provided by Terence Sesay in Monrovia.