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Author: Salome Gamier
Date: Wntr 2021
From: Harvard International Review(Vol. 42, Issue 1)
Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,281 words
Lexile Measure: 1430L

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There are 68 languages spoken in Kenya. Most people speak Swahili or English and at least one of many local mother tongues. In the streets of Nairobi, it is not uncommon to hear greetings in multitudes of different languages, from "hey, how are you?" in English to "jambo, habari gani?" in Swahili, including "wlmwega, Ghana atla?" in Kikuyu. Kenyans speak and understand many different languages--Spanish, however, is not usually one of them.

In the past few years, though, Kenyans have been hearing Spanish increasingly often, especially when seeking medical care. The introduction of a new language in Kenyan society may be surprising, but it is not a coincidence. Like many other countries in the world, Kenyans have seen Cuban doctors enter their health facilities and provide healthcare alongside their local counterparts since 2018 when the Cuban government deployed its doctors in rural, underserved areas in severe need of specialized medics. With this arrival, local clinics were able to provide quality specialized healthcare to patients in need instead of referring them to urban hospitals. The doctors generally adapted well to their new environments, such as by learning local dialects, and their presence led to improved access to specialised medical care and reduced congestion in urban referral hospitals, or hospitals that provide specialized care after referral from local primary care providers.

However, as a new, smaller wave of Cuban doctors entered Kenya to help address the COVID-19 pandemic, questions arose about the conditions under which these foreign medics had been working on Kenyan soil. Kenya and Cuba struck a deal in 2018 to bring in 100 Cuban doctors to Kenya's underserved rural areas. However, all details and logistics remained confidential, including the doctors' salaries and how much money the Cuban government received for the deal. Amidst rising public scrutiny around the 2018 deal, Kenya's major news outlet The Nation led a thorough investigation on the materialization of this transaction and on the benefits granted to Cuban doctors to keep them in Kenya for the past two years.

The Kenya-Cuba Doctors Deal

In 2005, Cuban President Fidel Castro established The Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, nicknamed the "White Coat Army," to respond to emergencies and serious epidemics around the world. Doctors from the Brigade are trained in specialized medicine and infectious disease containment. So, in July 2020, 20 Cuban doctors from the Brigade arrived in Kenya to help manage the coronavirus pandemic. They came to join the 100 other Cuban doctors who had been working on Kenyan soil for the past two years since Kenya and Cuba had agreed on the Doctors Deal.

The relationship between Kenya and Cuba was instigated in 2016 when then-President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a diplomatic push to increase cooperation with Havana and advance "shared collaboration interests." Specifically, Kenyatta was interested in Cuba's health expertise. Shortly after the Kenyan administration had set up an embassy in Havana, both governments began talks over a new partnership in the field of health. These discussions originally revolved around "investment opportunities for the manufacture...

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