U.S.-Cuba Cooperation on Ebola: Disgrace or Diplomacy?
Sherri L. Porcelain
She teaches global public health in world affairs at the University of Miami where she is also a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
The spread of the deadly Ebola virus underscores why international cooperation is both complicated and necessary. When the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) extended an invitation for the United States to participate in a recent hemispheric meeting on Ebola, the location and timing of the meeting became a point of contention to some Cuban American leaders in South Florida. U.S. House Representative Mario Diaz –Balart called the U.S. participation “a disgrace.”
First, the Ebola Regional Technical Meeting prompted criticism because the U.S. sent a government representative to Havana. On October 29 -30, 2014, with thirty- four countries in attendance, participants met to identify gaps in preparedness, discuss regional strategies and expand training, resources, and risk communication. The White House sent Dr. Nelson Arboleda, the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) Central America’s Regional Director, to Cuba. Dr. Arboleda was the perfect choice. He is a CDC Disease Detective, a global health leader, a Colombian- American raised in Miami who is knowledgeable about events in Latin America and an Adjunct Professor of Global Health at his alma mater, the University of Miami.
Second, disapproval was voiced that the U.S. government’s participation in the Cuba meeting took place during an expanded summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) - a regional organization formed to minimize U.S. hegemony in the region. The reality of establishing global health security by reducing the scourge of deadly diseases cannot always be conducted through traditional approaches in international relations. History reminds us of such efforts.
PAHO has played a key role in facilitating regional health diplomacy actions.
Some examples include:
Other significant global health cooperation challenges include both governmental and nongovernmental actions:
These examples are meant to show that it is not necessary to be “friends” to join forces and fight against plagues. Sometimes it takes academic, scientific and other non- state actors, such as PAHO to promote diplomacy. However, when this is done at an official governmental level, countries must acknowledge their collective responsibility.
Cuba’s policy to withhold official reporting on disease outbreaks, in spite of their well-developed epidemiologic system, jeopardizes the efficacy of such regional efforts. You need look no further than Cuba’s official reporting on cases of dengue and chikungunya.
Cross border coordination of activities and disclosing a country’s health risks are necessary factors in preventing and controlling the spread of diseases. Ebola! We know that without effective transparency, health diplomacy becomes an empty façade, and worse, global health security is seriously compromised. This is the real “disgrace,” unless PAHO takes a position to seek truthful data.
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