Cuba here to help, says ambassador

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Cuba here to help, says ambassador

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, March 20, 2020

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Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Ines Fors Fernández says in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, both the Cuban and Jamaican governments must maintain a strong relationship.

The ambassador's comment follows news that Kingston has asked Havana to provide 100 nurses to help man local intensive care units (ICUs) which are critical in treating Jamaica's most severe cases of COVID-19.

Up to yesterday, Jamaica had confirmed 15 cases of the virus.

“Cuba is here to help. The world is experiencing one of the worst moments possible in recent years, so it's very important that there is solidarity between Cuba and Jamaica. It's very important to maintain cooperation and it's very important that we continue to help each other,” the ambassador told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Wednesday.

The Spanish-speaking country, which has four confirmed cases of the coronavirus, has dispatched scores of specialist nurses and doctors to countries, some severely impacted by COVID-19, to assist with treatment and containment.

Already, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has announced that the first batch of 21 specialist nurses will arrive from Cuba on March 24.

On Wednesday, the ambassador went further to say that her Government also stands ready to offer additional assistance in the form of the antiviral drug Cuban Interferon Alpha 2B which, she said, has been used in China to combat the infection. The drug is used to treat various cancers as well as virus infections.

According to an article in the online magazine Counter Punch, Cuban Interferon Alpha 2B has been produced in China since 2003 by the enterprise ChangHeber, a Cuban-Chinese joint venture.

The drug, Counter Punch reported on Tuesday, “has proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19”. The magazine said Cuban biotech specialist Dr Luis Herrera Martinez explained that use of the drug “prevents aggravation and complications in patients, reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death”.

Counter Punch also reported that Cuba first developed and used interferons to arrest a deadly outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981, and the experience catalysed the development of the island's now world-leading biotech industry.

Ambassador Fors Fernández said a formal request would have to come from the Jamaican Government for the drug.

On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips announced that he had reached out to the Cuban Government for Jamaica to access the drug, which is said to be among 30 such drugs being used in the fight against COVID-19 in other jurisdictions.

“Interferon was among the medication used by China to treat the coronavirus and it has [had] good results. It is at our discretion to dispense this drug to countries that wish to have it,” Fors Fernández said, adding that this should be done through a formal channel.

“It depends on the country and what medication and drugs it decides on using. We, of course, have to respect this decision until they make request,” she added.

“Cuba is here to help, not just Jamaica but also other countries — other Caribbean countries, countries in Latin America and across the world. It's part of our humanitarianism and our push for solidarity,” the ambassador stated.

On Tuesday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said Jamaica is planning to have discussions with Cuba to get more information about the drug.

“To the extent that there is a new pharmaceutical response to COVID-19, we will be very interested to learn more about that, and so the conversation will continue in that regard,” Tufton said at Jamaica House where he updated the nation on COVID-19 developments.

However, Tufton said Jamaica's medical team will first have to get the drug vetted by the standards agency before it is registered for use and made available to the public.

In the meantime, she said the Cuban Government has been following the World Health Organization's guidelines as it relates to tackling COVID-19 in the country and will continue to do so even as it assists other countries.


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