HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro has dispatched the first group of 165 Cuban doctors and nurses to West Africa to help combat an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, official media reported on Thursday.
The 62 doctors and 103 nurses departed late Wednesday for Sierra Leone, one of three West African countries hardest hit by the virus, after more than two weeks of training with international experts at a Havana hospital specializing in tropical diseases, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.
Another 296 Cuban doctors and nurses will go to Liberia and Guinea when their training ends to help fight the worst Ebola outbreak on record. It has killed at least 3,300 people since it began in West Africa in March.
Leaders of the Liberia and Guinea brigades also left for West Africa to make preparations, Granma reported.
The epidemic began in a remote part of Guinea and has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria.
Cuba has more than 50,000 doctors and nurses posted in 66 countries around the world, including more than 4,000 in 32 African countries.
The overseas missions are part of a medical diplomacy for the communist government, which offers special brigades for disasters and emergencies and also exchanges doctors for goods or cash, making professional services a leading export earner.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum