US embargo stalled payment to Cuban Ebola doctors
Friday – 12/12/2014, 5:23pm ET
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba had to cover food and lodging expenses for dozens of
its doctors fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone after the U.S. embargo
delayed payments from the World Health Organization, an official at the
U.N. agency said.
U.S. officials as high as Secretary of State John Kerry have praised the
Cuban effort against Ebola. But the longstanding embargo affects
virtually all dealings with Cubans, even for banks outside the U.S.,
because they depend on dollar transfers through U.S. institutions.
Jose Luis Di Fabio, the health agency’s representative for Cuba, told
The Associated Press it had to request special licenses from the U.S.
Treasury Department to transfer money to the doctors in Africa.
The licenses were eventually granted and the government-employed doctors
only recently received payments dating as far back as October, he said.
“The fact that they’re Cubans greatly limited the funds transfers and
the payment,” Di Fabio said. “It’s not that the WHO didn’t want to pay,
it’s that they weren’t able to.”
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment Friday. Cuban
officials in Havana did not respond to requests seeking comment.
Cuba has sent 256 medical workers to Africa, with 165 in Sierra Leone
and the rest in Guinea and Liberia. Cuban doctors generally receive
salaries of about $70 a month, with some specialists earning more, but
the Cubans in Africa are receiving $250 a day in direct payments from
WHO that are meant to cover their food and lodging and provide a margin
of extra compensation.
The embargo issue did not affect the state salaries, which are paid to
banks inside Cuba, only the extra payments from WHO.
Di Fabio said there were relatively minor delays in opening accounts for
the doctors in Guinea and Liberia, but those have been resolved.
In Guinea, where the current Ebola outbreak started, 37 Cuban doctors,
nurses and epidemiologists have not yet received two or three weeks of
immersion training at an Ebola treatment center working with patients,
the last step necessary for them to go to work in the field. There has
also been a delay in deploying Cuban doctors in Sierra Leone, with only
about 60 of 165 Cubans there in the field, said Dr. Carlos Castro,
leader of the Cuban doctors in Guinea.
Di Fabio said there was a clear need for “better coordination of efforts.”
He said that in Liberia, about 30 Cuban doctors are working closely and
efficiently with U.S. doctors in a center built by the U.S. Agency for
Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in Havana and Michelle
Faul in Conakry, Guinea, contributed to this report.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
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