Cuban President Raúl Castro; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
Yamil Lage/Getty Images; Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Who could have known that it would take an Ebola outbreak in West Africa for Cuba and the U.S. to pat each other on the back about something?  

Here’s how it happened: First, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry singled out Cuba on Friday as one of the nations that are “stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the front lines” of the world’s response to the Ebola crisis, Al-Jazeera reports. 

Advertisement

Then last weekend, Cuba—a country that has historically bumped heads with the U.S.—reciprocated the good gesture. Cuban leader Raúl Castro expressed how important it was for Latin American nations and even international organizations like the United Nations—often perceived as the West’s premier nongovernmental group—to band together to subdue the Ebola virus. Cuba even singled out the U.S. as a potential collaborator.

“Cuba offered to collaborate with the United States to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as the island nation sends an additional 460 doctors and nurses to the region—an example of how the Cuban government uses medical personnel to flex its soft power throughout the world, experts say,” the report says.

Foreign policy experts are saying that the back-and-forth is demonstrative of how public health issues are building bridges between countries that have a history of being at odds with each other. For Cuba, medical outreach is its way of extending an olive branch and opening itself to the world.

Advertisement

“Public health has also been key to the Cuban government’s diplomacy efforts in Africa and around the world. The island nation has deployed more than 130,000 medical field personnel in more than 107 countries in the past 50 years to assist with public health emergencies and care,” Al-Jazeera reports.

America’s gesture didn’t fall on deaf ears. Jorge Perez, the head of Cuba’s top tropical-medicine institute, described the significance of Kerry’s acknowledging and commending Cuba for doing something positive. 

“Perez said that despite Washington’s tense relationship with Cuba’s Communist government, Kerry’s words were ‘an important gesture,’” the news site reports.

While the Ebola outbreak has been extremely devastating, the report explains that a silver lining in most public health crises is that countries can flex their “medical diplomacy” and that can often lead to the opening up of the lines of communication about other issues.

Read more at Al-Jazeera.