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By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A Cuban doctor treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the disease and was being sent to Geneva for treatment, officials said, the first Cuban known to have contracted the potentially deadly haemorrhagic fever.
The doctor, identified by Cuba’s official website Cubadebate on Tuesday as Felix Baez, is one of 165 Cuban doctors and nurses treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. They have been there since early October.
They are part of a Cuban team of 256 medical professionals sent to West Africa to treat patients in the worst Ebola outbreak on record that has killed more than 5,000 people.
Baez, a specialist in internal medicine, had a fever on Sunday and tested positive on Monday after being taken to the capital Freetown, Cubadebate reported, citing a Health Ministry statement. He has not shown complications and is “hemodynamically stable,” the statement said.
“Our collaborator is being tended to by a team of British professionals with experience in treating patients who have displayed the disease and they have maintained constant communication with our brigade,” the statement said.
At the urging of the World Health Organization (WHO) it was decided to send him to a university hospital in Geneva, where he would be treated by experts in infectious diseases, the ministry statement said. His whereabouts in Sierra Leone early on Wednesday were unclear.
The Cuban commitment to treating Ebola patients in West Africa has won international praise as more substantial than contributions from many wealthy countries. Among those recognizing Cuba has been the United States, its political adversary for the past 55 years.
Some Cuban 165 doctors and nurses have gone to Sierra Leone for a six-month mission, with another 53 in Liberia and 38 in Guinea.
Another 205 have undergone three weeks of training, with extensive practice in using protective full-body suits, and are ready to receive an Ebola assignment.
The Communist-run island has practiced medical diplomacy since Fidel Castro came to power in a 1959 revolution.
While Cuba provides disaster relief around the world free of charge, it also exchanges doctors for cash or goods on more routine missions. The island receives an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela, where some 30,000 Cuban medical professionals are posted.
In all, there are more than 50,000 health workers in 67 countries.
The latest WHO tally on Nov. 14 reported 5,177 Ebola deaths out of 14,133 cases, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Tait)