The recent protests in Cuba evidenced the population’s discontent with the living conditions in the country. Cubans took to the streets asking for basic freedoms and also driven by dissatisfaction with the crisis, aggravated by the pandemic, which left many without access to medicines and medical services.
The health system in Cuba is recognized by the international community as a success story. Among the most celebrated data are low infant mortality and high life expectancy on the Caribbean island, rates that are comparable to those in developed countries.
According to official figures, Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, with about 4.2 deaths per thousand live births. The life expectancy of a Cuban is 78.98 years, higher than that of Brazilians and similar to those born in the United States.
However, data from an authoritarian regime like the Cuban dictatorship should be viewed with caution, and there is evidence that these statistics do not faithfully portray reality.
There are studies that argue that the achievements of Cuban health are achieved with data manipulation and the regime’s repressive methods. One 2018 survey reports that doctors in Cuba falsify infant mortality statistics to keep these rates artificially low.
“Cuban doctors were re-categorizing neonatal deaths as late fetal deaths in order to achieve government goals for infant mortality,” say the authors.
In addition, doctors pressure women to have an abortion – or even perform abortions without the clear consent of the mothers – when fetal abnormalities are detected, which could result in an increase in the infant mortality rate, reports another previous study. Artificially reducing the number of child deaths also has the effect of increasing the nominal rate of life expectancy.
There are excellent hospitals in Cuba, which attract foreigners in search of medical care at more affordable prices than in their countries of origin. But the system to which the average Cuban citizen has access is quite different, according to numerous press reports, testimonies and documentation.
Jaime Suchlicki, Director of the Institute for Cuban Studies at the University of Miami (USA), explained the division of the health system on the island.
There are three health systems in Cuba: the first is services offered to foreigners, part of the so-called medical tourism, which brings an important source of income for the regime and creates a reputation for superiority in the country’s health system. Tourists pay in dollars and are treated in well-equipped hospitals comparable to “first world” hospitals. These places also offer aesthetic treatments and plastic surgery.
The second layer is that of the Cuban elites: Party authorities, military personnel, intellectuals, among others, receive excellent care such as that offered to tourists.
Third is the system available to the common population, which suffers from a shortage of basic items.
A report by Efe in June showed the situation of public health in the country, where those who get sick have no medicine to treat themselves. The island’s pharmacy and hospital pantries are virtually empty, leaving the population even more vulnerable to diseases that are treatable.
Without medicines, Cubans rely on the solidarity of neighbors, who share what they can, with networks for the distribution of medicines with the help of those who live in other countries, and with the black market – painkillers, antibiotics, anticoagulants and others are found by a price up to ten times higher than the original in online sales groups.
Covid-19 made the situation even worse. Cuba faces its worst moment in the pandemic, with record numbers of daily cases registered this week.
Mayi Del Valle, a librarian who lives in Ceballos, in the central province of Ciego de Ávila, told Associated Press on Wednesday (4) that there are “every day more sick people, more dead people, a family member, a friend, a neighbor”.
She said that there is a shortage of medicines of all kinds and that the health infrastructure is being surpassed by the number of people who cannot find beds or are not treated quickly. “There are people who are going through Covid at home on herbs,” he lamented.
Interviewed told this week to Radio Televisión Martí, a US government-funded broadcaster that broadcasts news in Spanish to Cuba, that the crisis has increased the black market for drugs and is causing hospitals to overcrowd, which do not have enough beds and oxygen.
The newspaper Diário de Cuba also reports the precarious situation of the places that serve for the isolation of people suspected of Covid-19 in Havana. These are schools and other places that have been converted into isolation centers and that face a lack of medicines, equipment and health personnel.
According to the report, “the terrible situation in the isolation centers and the lack of medicines is contributing to more and more Cubans with symptoms of Covid-19 hiding them and doing self-isolation at home, to pass the disease with the support of their family, using alternative medications and trying to find palliative medications in internet sales groups”.
Also in the context of the pandemic, Cuba was revered for being the first country in Latin America to develop immunization against Covid-19. There are five vaccines, two of which – Sovereign 02 and Abdala – are being widely used in the island’s immunization campaign. Despite the scientific achievement, there are many doubts about the drug’s efficacy and safety.
The dictatorship claims that Sovereign 02 is 62% effective after the application of two doses, and that Abdala – exported to Venezuela – is 92% effective after the application of three doses. These data, however, have not been verified by any reputable regulatory agency or the World Health Organization. Nor have they been published in any scientific journal.
Cuban activists and independent journalists recently denounced the Jacqueline Borrego Cuesta’s case, a member of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic who died on May 10 in Havana. According to these allegations, the 50-year-old woman was not receiving specialized medical attention because of her political stance and died undernourished, after months in bed at home.
According to a report by journalist Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, reporter for ADN Cuba, the activist was admitted to hospital in 2018 after a multiple stroke that affected a large part of her body, and it had been more than a year since she had received the care that her condition of health required. Jacqueline’s family told the journalist that they believe the abandonment occurred “because she was an activist.”
According to Valdés Cocho, whenever the activist’s husband went to seek help at the health unit in his neighborhood, he heard the same “excuses”: the staff of the neurology department in his locality were on a mission or were treating Covid-19 patients in others. places.
“She died in the hospital itself, where they were supposed to provide her with all the necessary care to fight the disease she suffered. Do they seriously intend to continue selling us the medical power discourse? Are they seriously thinking about continuing to deceive us?”, asked the journalist. “I will never tire of denying the absurd discourse of medical power that the Cuban regime preaches so much internationally.”
Another similar case was denounced in April by Cuban activists. Human rights activist Lisset Naranjo Girón, 36, died of kidney failure, “amidst neglect and precariousness,” according to the complaint.