HAVANA – A team of Cuban doctors have been welcomed home after spending two months in Italy helping tackle the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The 52 medics, who are all specialized in disasters and serious epidemics, were the first to leave Cuba to help control the pandemic at the request of Italian authorities.
They were stationed in Lombardy, the region most affected by the pandemic in the Mediterranean country, and returned to Havana on Monday.
One of the team, Dr. Roberto Arias, said: “When we arrived there, we found the hospital crammed with patients, some of them were in the corridors; practically all patients had respiratory support.”
“There were a huge number of deaths, ambulances were constantly passing and the streets were desolate.”
His colleague Dr. Leonardo Fernandez said: “Regarding health checks and protection, measures have been stricter than in Ebola outbreaks.
“The medical mission was part of our job and our responsibility as health workers, Cubans and internationalists.”
Another medic, Dr. Carlos Carrilla, added: “We knew how to do it. We did it and saved lives.”
The team’s return to Jose Marti International Airport was broadcast live on state television with Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, the head of public health Jose Angel Portal and other government representatives in attendance.
Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel was also there to welcome them back.
He highlighted the “intense, risky and heroic” work carried out by 36 doctors, 15 nurses and one logistics specialist.
He said there was “deep rejoicing” over their return after “the most humanitarian and noble of the missions accomplished: saving lives.”
The team was working in the red zone of the Italian city of Crema, Lombardy, and has been transferred to Las Praderas International Health Center in Havana, where the medics will remain under strict quarantine for two weeks.
Cuba has sent 34 medical teams, a total of 3,337 doctors and nurses, to 27 countries in Africa, America and Europe after requests from foreign authorities.
So far, these teams have treated more than 61,000 patients infected with COVID-19, according to the island’s public health authorities.