HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. government officials joined health experts from throughout the Americas at an Ebola conference in Cuba on Wednesday, the latest show of cooperation between the historic adversaries on fighting the disease.
The meeting organized by ALBA, a bloc of leftist-governed countries, aims to coordinate a regional strategy on the prevention and control of Ebola, which has killed about 5,000 people in West Africa but in the Americas has only reached the United States.
U.S. military personnel and Cuban medical specialists are already posted in West Africa and prepared to work side by side if needed, officials have said, and Washington has expressed appreciation to Cuba for committing hundreds of doctors and nurses to the region to treat Ebola patients.
“This is a world emergency and we all should work together and cooperate in this effort,” said Nelson Arboleda, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) director for Central America, one of two U.S. officials and among 254 specialists from 32 countries at the Havana meeting.
ALBA, a nine-nation bloc led by socialist allies Venezuela and Cuba, held a summit in Havana last week in which presidents and prime ministers pledged cooperation on Ebola, leading to Wednesday’s follow-up meeting.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional arm of the World Health Organization, invited the United States to participate, White House spokesman Edward Price said.
“Consistent with our ongoing engagement in all meetings and events organized by PAHO, the director of the Central American region for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will attend this meeting,” Price said.
Following one of the agreements from the summit, Cuba is preparing to train health professionals from around the Americas for treating the disease, Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales said.
“We have offered our training center ... and our experts to prepare professionals who can become facilitators in each country in the region and help elaborate and implement Ebola prevention and control plans,” Morales told reporters.
With help from the World Health Organization and the CDC, Cuba has trained 461 of its own doctors and nurses for treating Ebola patients, more than half of whom have already gone to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia for six-month missions.
The United States and Cuba have been adversaries since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, though in recent years the two countries have cooperated on issues such as immigration, illegal drug interdiction, weather forecasts and oil spill prevention.
On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted 188 to 2 to condemn the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
A Liberian man died Oct. 8 while visiting Dallas, Texas, the first Ebola case diagnosed in the United States, and two nurses who treated him were infected but later cleared of the virus. In addition a New York doctor was diagnosed last week. Craig Spencer, 33, had worked with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients in Guinea.
Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool