Nigeria, Cuba have opportunity to strengthen ties in health sector – Envoy

Daily Trust: How will you assess the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Cuba?

Carlos Trejo Sosa: About three years ago, we celebrated our 40th anniversary of establishing bilateral ties with Nigeria and since then, our relations have been excellent. Both countries are connected historically and culturally as most of the Cuban descendants came from Nigeria and other African countries. Nigeria plays a big role in this historical and cultural linkage. So, political relations have always been excellent, but unfortunately, the relations in the economic sector have been very poor. Neither the Cuban nor Nigerian government is satisfied with this because we know that we have the potential to do better. It is therefore necessary that both countries improve trade ties by putting our economic relations in a good position.

DT: Which area of the economy do you think the two countries can focus on? 

Sosa: During the last five decades, we have done a lot of things in Cuba in terms of sciences, for example, and medical care. We have improved a lot and achieved many things which have been beneficial, not only to Cuba but also to humanity entirely. The production of vaccines and drugs, some of which are unique in the world, included vaccines against meningitis, hepatitis and drugs to avoid leg amputations of people suffering from diabetic ulcer up to 85 per cent. So, we have opportunities to collaborate with Nigeria in the health sector.  Nigeria is spending billions of dollars yearly on medical tourism. We can provide Nigerians with first class specialists in almost all the health areas, who could come to help the country save the hard currency its people are spending outside. People go abroad for many ailments that could be treated here at the highest level.

There are some Cuban drugs which are about to be introduced in Nigeria. Cuba is now dealing with a Nigerian company to bring in the products. But our aim is not only to import our drugs to Nigeria but to produce them here. We can license Nigerian companies to produce them because it will be cheaper and faster. Nigeria is a big country, nine times the size of Cuba. We can start with collaboration in the health sector before advancing to other areas of the economy.

DT: Is there any on-going negotiation with the Nigerian health ministry to bring in these specialists?

Sosa: No. at the federal level, we have not started yet. But some states, like Osun, Abia, Kaduna and Nasarawa have expressed interest and they have forwarded proposals which are now being studied in Cuba.

DT: How soon do you think the negotiation will be concluded?

Sosa: It is not an issue that could produce results easily. First, if we are bringing in specialists to work in public or private sector, there are some things, like place and the equipment they will work with that needs to be taken into account. They need to study the situation, obtain equipment and provide suggestions on how to refurbish places to accommodate the type of specialists and the services they want to provide. But the most important thing is to begin the process.

Our healthcare is the cheapest and one of the most advanced in the world. How do we achieve that with little money? In Cuba, since the beginning of the revolution, we have decided to have two big priorities, education and healthcare. Why? With illiterate and unhealthy people, you cannot improve the economy, as well as the living standard of the populace. I discussed with some friends in Nigeria, that you have excellent doctors working outside the country, in the United States and United Kingdom. I said that you can produce these excellent doctors in Nigeria and Cuba can help. I mentioned that Cuba has enormous universities of medicine in different countries producing thousands of doctors. Why not in Nigeria? Things can also be done in that area. We have solved healthcare problems in my country and assisted others to solve theirs. We can do same in Nigeria.

DT: At the moment, is there any medical exchange programme between Nigeria and Cuba?

Sosa: Nigerians study in Cuba at the moment but not with scholarships. Since the economic crisis hit us in Cuba, it was not possible for us to continue the scholarship programme. But still, we have foreign students studying medicine and other programmes in Cuba with amounts lower than what is charged in other parts of the world. Most of them stay in Cuba and continue their studies to become specialists in different areas.

DT: Cuba recently lost its leader. How do you feel about the death of Fidel Castro?

Sosa: We feel as if we have lost a great father, the founder of the Cuban revolution. Cuba, at a time, was particularly common with the under-developed countries. In the 1950s, most of the African countries were still under colonialism. But he said it was necessary for these countries to get independence and develop. He interpreted that humanity could only survive through solidarity, without which we get nowhere. You cannot get solidarity from the big ones who have colonized you for decades and centuries. Some people say Africa is backward. Why is it backward? When in 18th century, you stole all their human capital, you took away as slaves, children, young women and men and left only the ones who could not be used as machines to work. Now you are saying they are backward, when you had stolen what they had and also took away their natural resources.

That was why Fidel Castro said that Africa does not need counsel, Africa needs support. That was why he gave support to African countries in their liberation struggle for independence and in other civic areas, like the fight against Ebola. The only country that sent a complete brigade to fight Ebola in West Africa was Cuba. This was because we feel we have an enormous historical depth in Africa. Some of the Africans who were uprooted from their countries as slaves ended up in Cuba and they formed the basis of the country which led the Cubans to have their own nation and gain independence.

DT: What do you think young people, especially Africans, can learn from the life of Fidel Castro? 

Sosa: The lesson that we have learnt from Castro was that unity is the most important thing, the sense of fighting for something which is yours, not only for your independence or sovereignty, but for dignity. It is a thousand times better to live poor with dignity than to try to be rich on your knees. Dignity and unity, I think, are the key words. It doesn’t matter which religion, region, ethnicity or political party you belong to. What is important is the solidarity in fighting for the common good of the nation.

DT: Which legacy would you like to be remembered for when you leave Nigeria?

Sosa:  It will be legacy for deepening ties between both countries. As an ambassador, you cannot only consider yourself as an envoy of your country, you also need to work for the development of your host country.
Read more at http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/feature/nigeria-cuba-have-opportunity-to-strengthen-ties-in-health-sector–envoy/179501.html#Z2jM4jEqxBCkYv1V.99

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