Obama administration sends top disease specialists to Cuba
October 19, 2016
HAVANA (AP) — The Obama administration sent some of the United States’
top infectious disease specialists to Cuba on Wednesday to open a new
phase in medical cooperation after more than a half-century of isolation.
Two dozen U.S. and Cuban experts on tropical diseases opened three days
of meetings about each country’s research into insect-borne diseases
such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika. U.S. Health and Human Services
Secretary Sylvia Burwell was to fly to Cuba Thursday to attend.
The visit is part of President Barack Obama’s push to build irreversible
momentum behind his detente with Cuba in the final months of his
administration. The administration has issued six sets of regulations
loosening the 55-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, but the executive
actions could be reversed by a future administration.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who leads in polls three weeks
before the presidential election, has promised to continue
normalization. Republican Donald Trump has pledged to roll back Obama’s
Obama visited in March. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman visited
this month, as did Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife. More
visits are planned in coming months.
“Representatives of the U.S. government are beginning to flock to Cuba,”
said Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, deputy director of the U.S. National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “There’s every reason in
the world for us to be working together.”
The meetings are meant to lay the foundation for permanent cooperation
between public health officials and researchers in the U.S. and Cuba.
The U.S. embargo has prevented virtually all interaction between the
United States and Cuba, which has made medical research and health care
one of the nation’s highest priorities since Fidel Castro took power in
Cuba has reported remarkable success in containing the Zika virus,
limiting its spread to only three cases caught on the island, according
to Cuban officials, even as countries in the region such as Puerto Rico
and Venezuela have been hit by thousands of cases of the disease.
U.S. and Cuban medical officials said Wednesday that another area of
immediate interest was the dengue virus, which can have less severe
effects than Zika but has been a longstanding problem throughout Latin
America. Cuba and the U.S. are working on vaccines, and Cuban scientists
said a combination of the U.S. and Cuban vaccines had shown promising
results in initial animal testing.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: twitter.com/mweissenstein
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