HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and its closest allies from Latin America and the Caribbean meet in Havana on Monday to set plans for protecting their countries from Ebola and seek ways to help West Africa.
Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people since March in the worst outbreak on record, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
No cases have yet been reported in Latin America or the Caribbean but the virus has reached the United States and Spain.
The meeting in Cuba is aimed at keeping Ebola at bay and it brings together senior officials from the ALBA bloc of nations -- Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Dominica.
It also aims to help prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Communist-run Cuba has already made a significant contribution, sending 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone with another 296 set to depart for Liberia and Guinea this week.
“The best place to have this meeting without a doubt is Cuba because of its advances, its discipline, its solidarity,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said as he arrived in Havana on Sunday night.
Officials from the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization will also attend.
Cuba has sent medical brigades to disaster sites around the world since a 1959 revolution brought Fidel Castro to power.
At home, it submits travellers coming from the affected countries of West Africa to at least 21 days of observation before allowing them to travel freely in the country. Some 28 people have been held at a hospital in Havana, its director said on Friday.
Cuban doctors and U.S. military personnel could work side-by-side in West Africa. The United States is sending 3,000 military engineers, medical personnel and other troops to the region.
“We will gladly cooperate with the U.S. staff in this endeavour, not in the pursuit of peace between the two states which have been adversaries for so many years, but, in any case, for world peace, which is a goal that could and should be pursued,” Fidel Castro, who stepped down from power in 2008, wrote in an article published at the weekend.
Cuba also sends doctors overseas in exchange for money or goods, notably Venezuelan oil, making professional services a top export earner. More than 50,000 Cuban medical personnel are posted in 66 countries.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Michael Perry