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Why These Cuban Doctors Became Heroes During the Volcano Eruption in Guatemala

Fuego and Acatenango
Fuego and Acatenango | © Guillén Pérez / Flickr
When Fuego volcano erupted in June 2018, Guatemalan authorities struggled to deal with the destruction that it wrought. Into the breach came international assistance, with Cuban doctors in particular attracting a lot of attention.

Cuban humanitarian mission has a long history in Guatemala

Since 1998, groups of Cuban doctors have been working in Guatemala, helping local medical staff with a variety of different jobs. They first arrived following Hurricane Mitch, and ended up staying on a permanent basis. Their presence is part of Cuba’s humanitarian mission to send medics from the Caribbean island to developing nations around the world. In Guatemala, there are currently around 400 Cuban doctors who are assisting the public health service in the Central American nation.

When news of the eruption of Fuego volcano spread, some 26 Cuban doctors working in the Escuintla department made their way to the affected areas to lend their expertise. The doctors worked around the clock, often in addition to their normal day jobs, and offered 24-hour assistance to families that were housed in a series of shelters following the eruption.

Volcano Fuego erupted in Guatemala in June 2018 © Marco Verch / Flickr

Immediate response to help victims of eruption

Before doctors could even begin diagnosing conditions and getting people the help they needed, the first task was to improve conditions inside the cramped and chaotic shelters. After a few days, the Guatemalan government asked for more help from Cuba, and 20 more doctors traveled to the areas around the volcano.

In a truly heroic effort, the doctors worked for over a month to ensure that the victims were cared for. Most of the conditions that they treated were respiratory illnesses caused by volcanic ash, and skin infections.

The Cuban doctors worked long hours   © Markus Spiske / Flickr

What comes next?

Hundreds of families remain in the shelters as they wait to hear what to do next. Treated patients have to wait to see where they will be rehoused before they can start to move on and get over the the tragedy of the eruption. Meanwhile, the Cuban doctors will return to their normal posts and continue their work.

If you are traveling in Latin America, keep an eye out for signs offering consultations from Cuban doctors, who are highly regarded for their knowledge and expertise.