A Manitoba chiefs organization wants the federal government to allow Cuban doctors into Canada to help First Nations deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said a letter would be sent by Friday morning formally asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow Cuban Health Care Brigades into the country to provide medical aid to First Nations.
“We need to move and we need to move quick,” said Daniels.
Daniels said half of his organization’s 34 member Anishnaabe and Dakota communities want Cuban doctors to help them deal with the pandemic.
He wants to see doctors on the ground within the next two to three weeks.
First Nations need the imported health care heft to shore up their front-lines in the face of COVID-19, said Daniels. First Nations are already grappling with limited pre-existing health resources that are being strained by the unfolding pandemic, he said.
“We see the writing on the wall. We are going to have a service shortage and we don’t want doctors deciding who is going to live or die,” said Daniels.
“We want to get ahead of it, to have the amount of resources available [so] in the event that occurs, or we get close to something like that, we have done everything we could to try to mitigate that and save the lives of our people.”
Daniels said the total cost of bringing in Cuban doctors still needs to be worked out, but he expected it to be a fraction of the price of the same service delivered by the Canadian health care system.
Daniels said he expected Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to help foot the bill.
“We want ISC to get onboard here and get a good return on investment when it comes to the health dollar allocation,” said Daniels.
“Had we been in charge on this from the get go, the systemic barriers we see in Manitoba would have been addressed long before this sort of scenario ever came into effect… We could have been ready for this and we weren’t.”
Health care partnership talks
Daniels went with a delegation of First Nations leaders and health technicians from Manitoba to Cuba at the end of February to discuss developing a health care partnership with the Caribbean island country. Under the partnership, Cuban doctors would go north to provide care and potential Indigenous health care workers would go south for training.
A senior Cuban health official also held a presentation at the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly in December.
Indigenous Services Canada said in a statement it was working with Daniels’ organization along with the Manitoba government and First Nations community to ensure that health services can handle any COVID-19-related surge.
The department said it is also looking to support health services by deploying other health care professionals, like paramedics, to boost front-line ranks.
“ISC will continue to take a broad approach to solicit additional health professionals that can be available to communities should they see a number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases and may require surge capacity support,” said the statement.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Cuba sends doctors overseas to fight pandemic
Cuban medical personnel were recently met with applause after landing in Italy to help that country deal with the COVID-19 pandemic which has pushed its health care system to the brink.
Cuba has also sent doctors to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada to help battle the pandemic.
David LeDoux, chief of Gambler First Nation about 350 km west of Winnipeg, said he already has an agreement with the Cuban health ministry for a doctor to come live in the community. However, Canada won’t issue a visa to allow the doctor in.
LeDoux said Cuban doctors should be allowed into the Canada on humanitarian grounds. His community has already informally raised the prospect of bringing in Cuban doctors to deal with COVID-19 with the Cuban embassy.
“The best way to avoid spreading COVID-19 would be to isolate our members within our communities should our members become ill,” said LeDoux.
“We would not want to overwhelm the health care system with First Nations patients in hospital.”
The Cuban embassy could not be reached for comment.