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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Cuba to help Caribbean fight Aids

By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Cuba

Gay men in Havana
Cuba has one of the world's lowest infection rates
The Cuban government has offered to train nurses and doctors throughout the Caribbean as part of the region's fight against Aids.

Cuba also says it will provide anti-retroviral drugs to its neighbours at well below market prices.

The offer has been enthusiastically accepted by representatives of Caricom - the Caribbean regional grouping that has been meeting in Havana.

Only sub-Saharan Africa has higher HIV infection rates than the Caribbean.

But Cuba, the region's largest island, has largely escaped the disease.

It has one of the world's very lowest infection rates. That is for a combination of reasons.

Cheap anti-retrovirals

One is that when HIV was first discovered in the mid-80s Cuba controversially quarantined those it found to be carrying it.

The Communist-led island also has the advantage of a good public health system and a largely non-travelling, non-drug injecting population.

It is now offering its expertise in Aids prevention and treatment to its neighbours. Cuba says it will give scholarships to 50 doctors a year from across the Caribbean to study in its hospitals.

It is also proposing to build training centres on neighbouring islands and sell its home-produced anti-retroviral drugs at highly competitive prices.

The Barbados Minister of Foreign Affairs, Billie Miller, described the proposal as spectacular.

She warned that Aids threatened the survival of people and economies across the Caribbean and that Cuba's offer was one its neighbours could not refuse.

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