Dr. Ivo Zúñiga Martínez, is working in Haiti's Anse d'Hainault region, as a member of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specializing in Disasters and Serious Epidemics. Photo: Courtesy of interviewee

Once again, Haiti faced devastation as the result of a natural disaster, this time it was Hurricane Matthew hitting the island this past October, and once again to aid the victims, Cuba dispatched a brigade from the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specializing in Disasters and Serious Epidemics.

The group of three epidemiologists, ten hygienists, ten vector control technicians, and eleven Comprehensive Family Medicine doctors was sent to reinforce the efforts of the Cuban Medical Brigade already working in Haiti, and confront the emergency situation, given the severe impact of the hurricane, which worsened the poor epidemiological situation existent in the country.

This information was shared via email by Dr. Ivo Zúñiga Martínez, who is serving in the Anse d'Hainault region as a member of the Henry Reeve Contingent, engaged in active monitoring and treating patients where there have been outbreaks of cholera and acute diarrhea, in addition to an increased incidence of malaria.

Cuban doctors travel to rural areas to serve the population. Photo: Courtesy of interviewee.

"The population is thankful for our presence because we have arrived in areas

that are difficult to reach with traditional means of transportation, which means, no one comes," the Cuban doctor indicated to Granma International, recalling that he had treated a two month old baby girl in very poor health, being cared for by neighbors since her parents died in the hurricane.

To get the child to a medical facility, he carried her on foot for five kilometers, along roads blocked with debris. After being admitted to a hospital and receiving adequate treatment, she has recuperated, and her caregiver is constantly repeating in Creole, "Thank you Cubans, may god bless you."

Dr. Zúñiga previously served in Guinea-Conakry, combating the Ebola epidemic, and described this work as a great learning experience, "The task is intense, it wears you down physically and psychologically. We had to protect ourselves and our colleagues," he recalled.

He likewise shared that, during his stay in West Africa, he was greatly impacted by the death of the brigade member, 60-year-old economist from Sancti Spíritus, Jorge Juan Guerra Rodríguez, as a result of malaria.

Pictured left to right: Mariela, Gisselle, and Michelle. Photo: Anabel Díaz

Nonetheless, he values the experience recognizing that human lives were saved thanks to the attention and specialized treatment the Cuban doctors provided. The population arrived in great numbers to the Cuban hospitals, he reported, given the positive results they obtained in confronting the dangerous disease.

Just a few months after returning from West Africa, Dr. Zúñiga was called upon to travel to Western Sahara, where serious flooding had occurred at the end of 2015. His group supported the work of the Cuban medical brigade which has been working in the country for more than 40 years.

Describing his experience in Haiti, the young doctor reported that it was difficult to miss the birth of his second daughter, writing, "They let me know on October 24, at 5:58 pm, that Michelle had been born, healthy, with a normal birth, weighing 9.4 pounds. I cried with emotion and I shouted the news to the whole brigade. I received many congratulations, and within a few minutes, they sent me a photo of my little girl, wrapped in a green blanket, with her eyes wide open."

Given this news, Granma International visited the doctor's wife Gisselle Fernández Arias, who recounts, "I was admitted beginning October 1, in the Luis Díaz Soto Hospital, known as the Naval, since I had a urinary infection. My mother-in-law came to the house to take care of my six-year-old daughter Mariela. The day of the birth, several family members supported me. I received very good care from the doctors, some of whom knew the baby's father, since they were professors when he was in medical school."

"When the baby was about to be born, I made a call to Haiti, and told my husband that I was in the prep room, and that within a few hours, our little girl would be born. He responded saying that I had shown what a woman I was, that this was one more proof. I did everything they indicated during the birth, and it went well."

Dr. Zúñiga's family lives in one of the apartments built by the Revolution in the Alamar neighborhood in the municipality of Habana del Este, and his wife is well supported by family members and friends.

Gisselle Fernández commented, "I get up early, and get Mariela ready for school. I take the baby with me and leave the oldest with the teacher. Sometimes I stay for the morning patriotic activity or go do some shopping. Returning home, I nurse the baby until she falls asleep, and then take advantage of this time to do some housework. In the afternoon, my grandmother, my father, or some other relative visits. They are all very attentive to my needs, until 4:00pm, I go pick up my older daughter at school. I help her with her homework, and serve dinner, prepare her school supplies for the next day, and the days go by this way, really quickly."

To conclude, she sends a message to her husband, "I love you so much, and miss you even more."