Cuba has celebrated the 58th anniversary of sending its first medical mission to Algeria on 23 May 1963. The then President Fidel Castro had called on Cubans to contribute towards filling in the gap left by the departure of French health workers when the colonial power left the North African country.
The medical team consisted of 54 health workers who flew to Algeria. There were 29 doctors, four dentists, 14 nurses, and seven health technicians.
Algeria's Prime Minister at that time, Ahmed Ben Bella, went to New York before the mission left Cuba to participate in the ceremony marking his country's admission to the United Nations. Ben Bella boarded a plane for the Caribbean island the next day and was received at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana by Castro, the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution.
A few hours after Ben Bella's visit, the Cuban leader delivered a speech at the opening of the Victoria de Giron Institute of Basic and Preclinical Sciences in Havana. He suggested sending a medical mission to help Algeria, which suffered a post-independence exodus of French doctors, leaving it struggling with a significant shortage of health professionals.
"Most of the doctors in Algeria were French, and many of them left the country," explained Castro. "There are millions of Algerians, and colonialism left them with many diseases. Algeria's population is four million more than Cuba's, but they only have a third of the number of our doctors, even less… That is why I told the students that we need 50 doctors as volunteers to go to Algeria."
Castro's words were welcomed by many doctors who expressed their willingness to go and help the Algerians. This is how Cuba's first medical solidarity mission took off to provide healthcare services beyond the borders of the country.