Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Ebola fight: Cuba the right choice

Published:Sunday | November 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor, Columnist

Financial expert and chief executive officer of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Dennis Chung has estimated that the chikungunya epidemic, which we didn't experience and which was overpropagandised by the Labourites, has cost us dearly. Of course, with just a handful of confirmed cases, it has not affected about 60 per cent of the population, and I am just speaking off my now painful cuff.

According to Chung, it will set back the economy some J$6 billion, with more than 13 million man-hours lost.

Chikungunya has been bad news, and by itself, it may very well be a deterrent to our tourism industry, which is a major contributor to our gross domestic product (GDP).

Nevertheless, while we now attempt to finally clean drains and gullies, where official information denies that the Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds, Ebola is on our doorsteps.

Inasmuch as the tourism impact would 'chik up' the economy and Ebola would bleed our lifeblood, the best economic asset we can have as a country is a healthy population, and the Cubans have a lot to teach us.

Jamaica has no reason to 'keep malice' with our nearest neighbour. That is a fowl fight based on Fidel Castro nationalising American assets in the 1960s. It has nothing to do with the smokescreen allegations of human-rights violation or even its communist regime. To those pretexts, I say one word: CHINA (America's largest trading partner).

Our help from Cuba is not simply about geopolitics, despite the discomfort that Uncle Sam has with Jamaica hugging up Cuba. Indeed, those of us who were sensible in the 1970s remember vividly when the Cubanos were as common here as the uncustomed Chinese goods being sold on the streets, hablando espanol, eating pork and building José Marti Secondary, Garvey Maceo and G.C. Foster College.

As it was in the 1970s when Cuba was one of the few countries that had the cojones to send ground troops to Angola to prevent a marauding racist South African government from its illegal expansionist endeavours, Cuba had long deployed thousands of health workers to fight the outbreak. Of course, Western governments ignored Ebola until its coming to America in September. Some 91 Cuban medical personnel just recently joined the already 165 on the continent.

It is of note that despite only a small number of Americans at the forefront of the battle, three have picked up the virus from patients. However, in spite of an enormous contingent of Cuban medics on the front line, none of them has contracted Ebola. That suggests that the Cuban expertise is superior.

This is not surprising for those of us who live and look outside of America.

Cubans have received great value for money in their health outcomes. That country spends 10 per cent of its GDP on health. Its GDP per capita, that is the average per person, is US$10,200 per year. Thus, from the little math that a sociologist knows, this equates to around US$1,020 per Cuban annually. On the other hand, the United States, with its US$52,800 per capita, spends some 17.9 per cent of its of GDP on health. This translates to almost 10 times what the Castro government forks out to keep its citizens healthy.

Yet, proportionally, more Americans die from all causes than Cubans. For Cubans, their annual death rate is 7.64 deaths per 1,000 of the population. In America this is 8.15. On the whole, Americans live a little over a year longer, with Cubans living on average 78.22 years and their friendly neighbours up north touching 79.56 years.

Cubans have a better running start than their United States counterparts. With an infant mortality rate of 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, they average two and a half children more, who survive, than the USA, whose 6.17 deaths looks good only when compared with Jamaica's, which is more than 13.

With all the billions spent on Medicare, health insurance and Obamacare, there are, on average, only three hospital beds for every 1,000 American residents. Yet, Cubans seem to be able to dig deep into their thread bags and provide 5.1 beds for the comparable population. Believe it or not, despite the hullabaloo about 'poor country' and how Jamaican patients have to lie down upright in our bedless public hospitals, our bed density is just under two per 1,000 residents, which is just one less than 'farin'. Cuba, with all its years of economic isolation, sanctions and cut-eye from the Americans, puts us all to shame in the hemisphere as they probably have so many hospital beds they could use queen size sheets in some hospitals.

Cuba is such an educated country that even the illiterates can read and write well. An almost perfect 99.8 per cent of the population is functionally literate. True, 99 per cent of Americans can, even though the one per cent includes an ultra-rich boxer who could not read in the newspapers and magazines that Usain Bolt was globally more well-known than he. While it has to be admitted that inadequate literacy does not prevent one from becoming a millionaire or elected official, it is a definite bulwark against any prospect of becoming a scientist, professor or doctor. These are the people who we need to confront the Ebola epidemic.

Therefore, not surprisingly, Cuba has an impressive 6.72 physicians per 1,000 residents; more than three times the American 2.42 medicine men and women. Cuban scientists seem to have come up on a lot of secrets that they are keeping to themselves. For all his money, poor Michael Jackson could not seem to find an American doctor to treat his vitiligo. However, Cuban scientists and doctors have routinely reversed this pigment-losing disease.

So, here are my cinco centavos. Good move, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson, link up with the cubanos.

But when you or your delegation travels, monitor the cell phone roaming charges.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.