On Tuesday, intensive care specialist Dr. Leonardo Fernandez was one of 90 Cuban medical workers getting ready to go to Guinea and Liberia to fight the Ebola epidemic.
They will join 165 more Cuban physicians and nurses who are already fighting the ravaging disease in Sierra Leone. Cuba's commitment recently drew praise from Secretary of State John Kerry and has focused on Cuba's unique program of medical diplomacy, which deploys armies of doctors and earns more than $6 billion a year in desperately needed foreign exchange.
Cuba has more than 50,000 medical workers in over 60 countries. Some nations like Brazil pay hundreds of millions a year for their services; others are on humanitarian missions that generate good will abroad.
Despite recent raises, most Cuban doctors' salaries don't top $75 a month, less than tourism or other jobs. The foreign missions almost always involve extra pay. Critics of Cuba's communist government have accused it of exploiting doctors and only giving them a meager portion of the money paid for their services. But those who believe in Cuba's communist revolutionary ideology say this is part of their mission.
"This is part of our training as Cuban doctors. When they ask for volunteers, whatever the situation, most of us raise our hands," Fernandez said.
Fernandez said he had volunteered for the Ebola mission a day after his daughter, a medical technician, put herself forward but wasn't accepted. At the moment, Cuba isn't sending women to fight Ebola.
"Saying that we're going without any fear would be a lie. We all have some fear," Fernandez said. "But how could a father say `no' after that? What greater motivation is there?"
- Young and Healthy: How NBC News Freelancer Survived Ebola
- Dominican Republic Issues Ebola Travel Ban
- Cuban Health Official Touts Country's Ebola-Fighting Efforts
--The Associated Press