Pompeo criticizes Qatar, S.Africa for taking Cuban doctors

Cuban Health Specialists arriving at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria, South Africa, to support efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (File/DIRCO/AFP)
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Updated 29 April 2020

Pompeo criticizes Qatar, S.Africa for taking Cuban doctors

  • Cuba’s globe-trotting doctors have long been a source of diplomatic soft power and pride for Havana
  • US says medical workers only benefit the government and has encouraged them to defect

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday criticized Qatar and South Africa for accepting doctors from Cuba to battle the coronavirus, accusing the communist island of profiting from the pandemic.
Cuba’s globe-trotting doctors have long been a source of diplomatic soft power and pride for Havana, but Washington says the medical workers only benefit the government and has encouraged them to defect.
“We’ve noticed how the regime in Havana has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue its exploitation of Cuban medical workers,” Pompeo told reporters.
“We applaud leaders in Brazil and in Ecuador and Bolivia and other countries which have refused to turn a blind eye to these abuses by the Cuban regime and ask all countries to do the same, including places like South Africa and Qatar,” he said.
“Governments accepting Cuban doctors must pay them directly. Otherwise, when they pay the regime, they are helping the Cuban government turn a profit on human trafficking.”
South Africa, which like Qatar has friendly relations with the United States, on Monday announced that 217 Cuban doctors had arrived in the country, which has the highest number of coronavirus infections in Africa.
Cuba has sent doctors to more than a dozen countries during the COVID-19 pandemic including hard-hit Italy. France has authorized Cuban teams to help in its overseas territories.
Cuba has made health care a societal pillar despite the poverty of the island, which has been subject to US sanctions for six decades.
Former president Barack Obama sought to reconcile with Cuba, calling the isolation policy a failure, and ended a program in which Washington encouraged Cuban doctors to defect and resettle in the United States — whose capitalist medical system offers exponentially higher incomes.
President Donald Trump’s administration has snapped back US pressure sharply and has imposed visa restrictions on Cuban officials involved in medical missions.
Cuba says it earned $6.3 billion from its medical dispatches in 2018 and used the proceeds to finance its own universal health care coverage.
One of the staunchest critics of the program is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right ally of Trump, who kicked out 8,000 Cuban health workers as he took office.


Proteins in COVID-19 patients’ blood could predict severity of illness, study finds

Updated 8 min 49 sec ago

Proteins in COVID-19 patients’ blood could predict severity of illness, study finds

  • The markers could lead to the development of a test that would help doctors predict how ill a patient might get
  • Could also provide new targets for the development of potential treatments for the disease
LONDON: Scientists have found 27 key proteins in the blood of people infected with COVID-19 which they say could act as predictive biomarkers for how ill a patient could become with the disease.
In research published in the journal Cell Systems on Tuesday, scientists at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and Germany’s Charite Universitaetsmedizin Berlin found the proteins are present in different levels in COVID-19 patients, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
The markers could lead to the development of a test that would help doctors predict how ill a patient might get when infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, they said, and could also provide new targets for the development of potential treatments for the disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 374,000 people worldwide and infected more than 6.7 million.
Doctors and scientists say those infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, respond differently — with some developing no symptoms at all, while others need to be hospitalized and others suffer fatal infection.
“A test to help doctors predict whether a COVID-19 patient is likely to become critical or not would be invaluable,” said Christoph Messner, an expert in molecular biology at the Crick Institute who co-led the research.
He said such tests would help doctors decide how best manage the disease for each patient, as well as identify those most at risk of needing hospital treatment or intensive care.
Messner’s team used a method called mass spectrometry to rapidly test for the presence and quantity of various proteins in blood plasma from 31 COVID-19 patients at Berlin’s Charite hospital. They then validated their results in 17 other patients with COVID-19 at the same hospital, and in 15 healthy people who acted as controls.
Three of the key proteins identified were linked with interleukin IL-6, a protein known to cause inflammation and also a known marker for severe COVID-19 symptoms.