Ebola, Cuba and capitalism

It is impossible to ignore that the capitalist for-profit system is the greatest obstacle in the effort to control the Ebola epidemic. Capitalism has sown abject poverty and malnutrition, dismantled existing public health systems, crushed human solidarity, based the development of vaccines and cures on their profit margin and weakened human ability to survive diseases.

The major outbreak of Ebola in parts of West Africa is already wreaking havoc in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The appearance of individual cases in Spain and the United States has aroused widespread awareness that this threat involves all of humanity and needs a worldwide effort, organized with the maximum of international solidarity, to bring it under control and find an eventual cure.

To this end we salute the example offered by socialist Cuba in offering 461 volunteer medical personnel to work in Africa alongside local caregivers and other international personnel, including from the United States.

The working-class movement here should organize to make sure that the resources of the United States and the other imperialist countries are made available to those on the front lines attempting to treat those with Ebola and to prevent the spread of the epidemic. We should also stay organized to prevent the imperialist governments from controlling how these resources are used.

A look at the U.S. reaction to the Ebola crisis exposes all the fault lines of the capitalist system and U.S. racism.

The appearance of one case of Ebola in Dallas led to a string of errors and illustrated the absence of any functional public health system. Medical personnel had no serious guidance and training in how to handle a possible Ebola case. Neither training nor equipment was adequate.

When nurses aiding the patient were infected, the medical authority, with typical boss arrogance, blamed nurse Nina Pham. But these errors stemmed from management procedures. Then, instead of issuing clear orders for exposed medical personnel barring travel, the authorities blamed nurse Amber Joy Vinson after she traveled.

Pham and Vinson were frontline heroes and should be honored as such. Instead they were vilified.

By continually changing their story, the Dallas and national health authorities’ incompetence facilitated the role of rightist political elements. These rightists, from Fox News to the Senate, exploited the public’s growing fear in order to push their reactionary, racist and xenophobic programs and stir the most irrational responses.

One community college near Dallas even barred people from West Africa from enrolling, regardless of their lack of contagion. Parents pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school when they learned its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by Ebola.

Washington’s way of “aiding” the West African countries is to send 3,000 troops. Apparently the Pentagon is the only government agency in this militarized country capable of mobilizing on a large scale. This dubious contribution in effect embeds the Pentagon in Africa via AFRICOM, a recent goal of U.S. imperialism.  Despite the size of the U.S. effort, its costs are miniscule compared with what the Pentagon spends on wars around the world.

Allegedly this Pentagon contingent will build field hospitals and treatment centers and deliver materials. It is unclear how many troops are medical personnel, what training they have to avoid contagion, and how they will be repatriated. They are not volunteers, but have been ordered into the hot zone.

By contrast, Cuba selected 461 doctors and other medical personnel, women and men, out of 15,000 volunteers, based on their prior experience in disaster relief in Haiti, Pakistan or elsewhere in Africa. These volunteers received further training at the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, near Havana. The 165 Cubans already in Sierra Leone are going through 15 days additional training there.

The Cubans’ courage and solidarity does not prevent them from taking every step of their preparation seriously. The current protocol for anyone re-entering Cuba from the affected region is that the individuals will spend 21 days at Pedro Kouri to assure they are not infected.

In his message on the important mission to West Africa, Fidel Castro wrote: “The medical staff that is ready to go to any region to save lives, even at the risk of losing their own, is the best example of solidarity that human beings can offer, particularly if they are not moved by any material interest.

“We all understand that in fulfilling this task with maximum preparation and efficiency, we would also be protecting our people and the brother peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, by avoiding the spread of the virus, since it unfortunately has entered and could further spread in the United States, a country with so many personal links and exchanges with the rest of the world.”

Cuba’s splendid history of international solidarity — whether with military aid for liberation struggles or medical humanitarian aid — is based on its socialist system and its absence of profit motive.