International Cooperation to Help Countries Cope
On March 21, 53 physicians and nurses from Cuba’s celebrated Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade of health professionals, trained in disaster medicine and infectious disease containment, arrived in Italy’s northern Lombardy region at the request of its health authorities. They will join a dozen Chinese doctors to work in a new field hospital being built in Bergamo in Italy’s hardest hit area, where over 63 per cent of the country’s deaths due to COVID-19 and 42 per cent of its active cases are concentrated, with over 1,000 patients undergoing intensive treatment. It is the sixth contingent of the specialized brigade to go abroad to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the first sent to Europe.
Other contingents of the brigade recently left to assist a number of countries in the Americas. One hundred forty-four doctors arrived on the weekend in Jamaica and 136 in Venezuela; five intensive care nurses recently arrived in Grenada and 51 health care professionals in Suriname. Those in Venezuela will be part of a group of 2,000 Cuban doctors working with communities there. Still others are already at work in Nicaragua. At the moment, Cuba has 28,000 medical professionals working on missions in 59 countries, the majority of which are affected by COVID-19.
Cuba’s contributions to the fight against the global pandemic also extends to the scientific investigation taking place at its Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana where researchers are engaged in numerous studies of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, and working on developing a vaccine for it. In the meantime, many countries have been asking Cuba to provide them with human recombinant interferon alfa-2b, the anti-viral medication developed at the centre, which has shown promise in the treatment of COVID-19 patients in China, south Korea and Germany.
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A recent report in the online publication Peoples’ Dispatch, reports on the medication’s use in combating COVID-19, calling Cuba “a beacon of international solidarity and medical excellence in leading the fight against the coronavirus” in spite of the vicious all-sided blockade the U.S. maintains against it. It says that the interferon alfa-2b prevented thousands of deaths from the coronavirus in south Korea and Germany, both of which have reported low death rates — especially Germany with a high incidence of the disease in its population. Given its promise for treating COVID-19, Cuba has already sent a team of doctors and supplies of interferon alfa-2b to Italy to work alongside Chinese experts. The medication is also being used in Panama, Venezuela and elsewhere, with Cuba having produced an adequate supply for treating thousands of patients at home as well if necessary.
Cuban-developed interferon alfa-2b has been produced in China since January 25 as part of a joint venture of the two countries and is one of 30 drugs chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission to combat the respiratory disease. It was first developed in 1986 by a team of researchers from the CIGB and has benefited thousands of Cuban patients. It is marketed as Heberon® Alfa R. and has been used as a treatment for HIV-AIDS, hepatitis B and C, herpes zoster (shingles), dengue and different types of cancers. The medication increases the natural production of interferon in the human body and strengthens the immune system of patients.
Doctor Luis Herrera, one of the creators of interferon alfa-2b, told teleSUR in an interview that the medication’s main purpose is to avoid complications in patients, especially vulnerable and older people who are susceptible to or have a poor immune response.
(With files from teleSUR, Prensa Latina, Agencia Cubana de Noticias, Radio Habana Cuba. Photos: Telesur, J. Vidal)