Radiography of medicine in Cuba: what is the reality behind the propaganda

People wait after being vaccinated against the coronavirus under a poster displaying images of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and former president Raúl Castro and the current president, Miguel Díaz Canel, at an immunization center in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2021. (REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini)

Cuba lives a paradox. It is the country that leads the race for vaccines against covid-19 in Latin America, but health professionals denounce the negligence of the government and the precarious conditions of the health system amid the worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

“The situation is only getting worse as the days go by”, he says Infobae neurosurgeon Alexander Pupo, one of the most prominent critics of the island’s healthcare system. “In Cuba the covid is really affecting along with other epidemics, such as scabies, and famine, which is criminal”, he claims.

“It is total chaos. Here everything has collapsed, the health system of the entire country is in full collapse “adds the doctor Manuel Guerra, an obstetrician at the Buenaventura Polyclinic in Holguín, also well known for his frequent complaints on social networks.

“In Cuba, COVID is affecting along with other epidemics, such as famine, which is criminal”

Record of cases and lack of medications

Cuba, one of the countries that successfully circumvented the first phase of the pandemic, is now suffering the onslaught of the second wave. The country, of about 11 million inhabitants, registered this Tuesday 3,080 new cases of covid-19, a new absolute maximum of infections and the first time that it exceeds 3,000 positives in one day, according to the epidemiological part of the Ministry of Public Health (Minsap).

The professionals consulted attribute the resurgence of cases to the overcrowding that occurs in isolation centers, in queues ever longer than the population does to get the basic products and in the hasty reopening of the island to foreign tourism.

Cuba, in addition, is mired in its biggest economic crisis in more than two decades, with a large deficit in the balance of payments and unable to face its foreign debt. In 2020, GDP plummeted 11%, its worst drop since 1993.

Faced with this scenario, the most pressing problem is the shortage of medicines. The professionals consulted by Infobae they denounce that the lack of remedies and supplies is unprecedented, being even worse than the one experienced during the severe crisis that the country experienced after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A woman was searched when buying medicine in a poorly supplied pharmacy in Havana (Cuba).  EFE / Yander Zamora
A woman was searched when buying medicine in a poorly supplied pharmacy in Havana (Cuba). EFE / Yander Zamora

“They boast of saying that Cuba is a ‘medical power’, that this is not real at all”says Guerra.

According to Pupo, the crisis began long before the pandemic, although the covid “made everything worse.”

“People are desperate”, he claims. “There are not even painkillers to relieve headaches.”.

“There are not even painkillers to relieve headaches.”

The government attributes the shortage to the US embargo in force since 1962, aggravated by the 243 measures implemented by the government of Donald Trump.

However, The experts consulted assure that the health problems are due to the fact that the government of Migual Díaz-Canel decided to prioritize investments in the repressive apparatus of the State.

“What it allocates to the repressive force is more than it allocates to nationally produced drugsYou don’t need anything imported either, there are fundamental drugs that were produced in the local pharmaceutical industry and nothing is destined for this, ”says Guerra.

The president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa / Archive)
The president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa / Archive)

Cuba classifies as 619 basic drugs, of which 359 are produced in BioCubaFarma, the state biotech company.

“There are ten patrols for each ambulance, so it is a bit difficult to explain that of the drugs”, resume Pupo.

For its part, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) referred to the pandemic as the main cause of the problem of lack of medicines in Cuba.

“Most of the raw materials, spare parts and other components necessary for the production of medicines come from the Asian region., strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation has led to delays in the arrival of these goods, both due to the problems of reduced production in these countries, as well as the interruption of air and maritime transport, “the organization told the agency. EFE.

Neither the Cuban Ministry of Health nor BioCubaFarma responded to a request for comment from Infobae on the reasons for the shortage.

“There are ten patrols for each ambulance, so it is a bit difficult to explain that of the drugs”

The case for vaccines

Medicines shortage contrasts with the achievements the country appears to be making in vaccine development.

More of 2.6 million Cubans, out of a population of 11 million, have received at least one dose of Abdala Y Sovereign 02, the two most advanced vaccine candidates against the coronavirus of the five that the island develops.

Cristian Artimbau, 14, receives a dose of the Sovereign 02 vaccine during clinical trials at a hospital amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Havana, Cuba.  June 29, 2021. REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini
Cristian Artimbau, 14, receives a dose of the Sovereign 02 vaccine during clinical trials at a hospital amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Havana, Cuba. June 29, 2021. REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini

Both formulas expect the emergency use authorization from the Cuban drug regulatory entity after showing an efficacy of 92.2 % (Abdala) and 62% (Soberana 02) in the last phase of clinical trials, according to local health authorities.

Once approved, they will be the first to be developed in Latin America.

However, on the island this achievement also arouses suspicion.

“They are looking for a political impact, here everything is politicized”

Both Guerra and Pupo question that the government has invested so much in the expensive process of vaccine development when so many basic supplies are lacking.

“How do you explain that we have vaccines and that there are not even essential drugs to treat a skin infection?”asks Guerra.

Although the level of professionals in the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of Cuba that develops the vaccines, the doctors distrust that the real effectiveness of the Cuban candidates is that communicated by the authorities, due to the lack of independence of the regulatory body and the interests of the government’s propaganda.

“They gave the results a day before the vote in the UN on the embargo”says Guerra. “They are looking for a political impact, here everything is politicized”he adds.

The island has so far 188,023 cases and 1,270 deaths, 17 of them in the last day.  EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa / Archive
The island has so far 188,023 cases and 1,270 deaths, 17 of them in the last day. EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa / Archive

In the meantime, on the island the contagion advances.

“If we don’t get help, we are going to have problems,” says Guerra. “We are not talking about political issues, we are talking about life and death.”

“We are not talking about political issues, we are talking about life and death”

The price of questioning official propaganda

Contradicting the official narrative about the benefits of the Cuban health system cost the two young professionals consulted by Infobae.

Dr. Pupo, 31, he says that after his complaints he lost “his life”: he lost his job as a surgeon at the Dr. Ernesto Guevara de la Serna Hospital in Las Tunas, he was prohibited from leaving the country and now suffers persecution by State Security Bodies (OSE), the Intelligence of the government of Miguel Diaz Canel.

Guerra, 27, is also being persecuted: in November 2020 he was arrested in the middle of the night and, although he did not lose his job, he is constantly monitored by the OSEs.

Both now promote the formation of a free Cuban medical union. They assure that the vast majority of their colleagues support and share their criticisms of health management on the island. “At work the vast majority, 85, 90 percent support me. Those who do not support are those who hold political positions in the Communist Party or work in State Security”Says Guerra.

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