Cuba’s pledge to deploy a 165-strong army of doctors and nurses to help fight the Ebola outbreak is the latest example of the Communist country’s decades-old tradition of “medical diplomacy.”

Since 1960, when Cuba dispatched a team of doctors to help with the aftermath of an earthquake in Chile, the Caribbean island has sent more than 135,000 medical staff to all corners of the globe.

The latest batch being sent to help in west Africa’s Ebola crisis are part of a 50,000-strong foreign legion of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers spread across 66 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, according to Cuba’s Health Ministry.

Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told reporters in Geneva on Friday some 62 doctors and 103 nurses were being sent to Sierra Leone to tackle the outbreak.

World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan welcomed the Cuban aid, the largest offer of a foreign medical team from a single country during the outbreak.

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Juvenile Secretary Bird - Sagittarius serpentarius

Secretary bird chicks are the cutest! They’re altricial birds, and spend about 40 days being fed by their parents, after which they tear up their own parent-delivered reptiles within the nest. After about 65-80 days, they start to fly (fledge), and are taught by both parents how to hunt soon after that. By the end of their fourth month, they generally live independently of their parents.

Faune de la Sénégambie. Alphonse Tremeau de Rochebrune, 1883-1887.

So far, the World Health Organization says 3,069 people have been infected in West Africa, of which about 1,552 have died. 40% of those cases appeared in the past three weeks. 

But the WHO claims these numbers considerably underestimate the spread of disease, and is preparing for a worst-case scenario estimate of 20,000 patients, with a $489 million containment plan involving thousands of health care workers.