Tag Archives: Corona Virus

THE WORLD REDISCOVERS CUBAN MEDICAL INTERNATIONALISM

The world rediscovers Cuban medical internationalism

Helen Yaffe,April 8th, 2020, 

 

As coronavirus has spread around the world, the global public has been surprised to see Cuban medicines being used in China and Cuban doctors disembarking in northern Italy. But Cuba’s solidarity-based medical internationalism has been going strong since the 1960s, writes Helen Yaffe (University of Glasgow).

Just weeks ago, in late February 2020, US Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders was vilified by the US establishment for acknowledging education and healthcare achievements in revolutionary Cuba. Now, as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic sweeps the globe, the island’s medical prowess is back in the spotlight, first because the Chinese National Health Commission listed the Cuban anti-viral drug Interferon alfa-2b amongst the treatments it is using for Covid-19 patients.

Effective and and safe in the therapy of viral diseases including hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-Aids, and dengue, the Cuban anti-viral drug has shown some promise in China and the island has now received requests for the product from 45 countries.

Then, on 21 March a 53-strong Cuban medical brigade arrived in Lombardy, Italy, at that time the epicentre of the pandemic, to assist local healthcare authorities. While images spilled out over social media, little was said in mainstream outlets. The medics were members of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Contingent, which received a World Health Organisation (WHO) Public Health Prize in 2017 in recognition of its provision of free emergency medical aid. In addition to Italy, Cuba sent medical specialists to treat Covid-19 cases in 14 of the 59 countries in which their healthcare workers were already operating.

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CUBA’S REPUTATION AS MEDICAL POWERHOUSE TESTED

Marc Frank, Financial Times, April 5 2020

Cuba has long been proud of sending thousands of its doctors to work around the world as icons of socialist solidarity — and important sources of dollars.

But the coronavirus pandemic has given a communist government with a reputation as a medical power one of its toughest domestic challenges since Fidel Castro seized power six decades ago.

All but bankrupted by US economic sanctions, the Caribbean island nation is grappling with the threat posed to the oldest population in the Americas, where more than 20 per cent are aged over 60.

A severe outbreak of Covid-19 could also potentially threaten the domestic authority of a government whose comprehensive free healthcare system has been a pillar of the revolution’s success.

But the global outbreak has also created diplomatic opportunities, say analysts. The government has stepped up its overseas medical programme, sending doctors and nurses to help fight the virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, as well as Italy, Andorra and elsewhere.

The strategy had long been a soft power play for the island, said Nicholas Watson, Latin America director at the consultancy Teneo, in a note. “[President Miguel] Díaz-Canel is not just looking to restore revenues that the program used to provide but to drive a wedge between the US and Europe over the medical assistance program.”

Cuba has so far reported close to 250 cases of Covid-19, mostly related to foreign visitors, and six deaths — an Italian and a Russian tourist and four Cubans. On March 20 it shut its borders, banned tourism and began implementing measures to curb the virus. This year’s May Day parade has been cancelled for only the third time since the 1959 revolution. Schools, bars and public transport between provinces have been shut down. Restaurants and stores remain open but with new rules on social distancing and hygiene, and all outside gatherings for festive purposes are banned.

Mr Díaz-Canel has appeared daily in the state-run media since the restrictions were rolled out, co-ordinating measures and urging citizens to take the threat seriously. “We have in our favour a public health system for all, a dedicated scientific community and an effective civil defence system, a party and a government that put Cubans at the centre of their attention,” he said in a nationwide address last month as he announced preliminary measures to contain the pandemic. “Serenity, discipline and collaboration, values ​​that every Cuban has incorporated, can prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.

Paul Hare, a former UK ambassador to Cuba who lectures at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, said the country’s tight social control over its population would also aid the effort. But, he added, “the strains on the Cuban health service will show in equipment and resources”.

While Cuba still boasts the best health statistics in the region, including number of doctors and nurses per capita, many health facilities are in disrepair and there are scattered pharmaceutical shortages.

Cuba initially did little Covid-19 testing but is now conducting more than 500 a day — a fivefold increase since last month — after a donation of kit from China. The government has not said how many ventilators are available. Community-based doctors and nurses, as well as medical students, have been going door to door asking about recent travel, contacts with visitors from abroad and possible symptoms.

Suspected cases are swiftly quarantined in state facilities. Confirmed cases have been hospitalised and their primary contacts quarantined.

The measures appear to have drawn near unanimous support.

“I approve of the measures, though the government should have taken them earlier, especially closing the border like other countries did,” said Anaida González, a retired nurse from central Camagüey province.

The government is, meanwhile, continuing to promote its narrative of global solidarity. As well as sending personnel to virus-stricken nations, state media have broadcast extensive footage of passengers being rescued from the Braemar, a cruise ship that docked in Havana after being refused entry by other Caribbean nations, and images of a Cuban-run hospital in Qatar and nurses marching into hospitals in seven other Caribbean island nations.

Cuba earned $6.3bn from medical services exports in 2018, its biggest source of foreign exchange and twice as much as tourism, its second biggest export earner. It needs the money more than ever given the tourism shutdown.

“Tourism generates $3bn annually in desperately needed hard currency and keeps most of the nascent private sector in business,” said William LeoGrande, a professor and Cuba expert at American University in Washington.

“A prolonged closure will reverberate across the entire economy, producing a recession not quite on the order of the 1990s Special Period [following the collapse of Cuban ally the Soviet Union], but a close second,” he warned.

“The photos of the Cuban medical brigade arriving in Italy are an icon of the revolution’s epic of international solidarity,” said Bert Hoffman, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies.

“But this narrative will only function as long as Cuba can control the coronavirus situation on the island itself.”

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CUBA: U.S. EMBARGO BLOCKS CORONAVIRUS AID SHIPMENT FROM ASIA

Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press, Friday, April 3, 2020

HAVANA — Cuban officials say a shipment of coronavirus aid from Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, has been blocked by the six-decade U.S. embargo on the island.

Carlos M. Pereira, Cuba’s ambassador to China, said on his blog this week that Ma’s foundation tried to send Cuba 100,000 facemasks and 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits last month, along with other aid including ventilators and gloves.

Cuba was one of 24 countries in the region meant to receive the donations announced on March. 21 by the Jack Ma Foundation, which is sending similar aid to countries around the world, including the United States.

Cuban officials say the cargo carrier of Colombia-based Avianca Airlines declined to carry the aid to Cuba because its major shareholder is a U.S.-based company subject to the trade embargo on Cuba. The embargo has exceptions for food and medical aid but companies are often afraid to carry out related financing or transportation due to the risk of fines or prosecution under the embargo.

Human-rights groups have been calling for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba and Iran during the coronavirus epidemic in order to permit the flow of more aid. The Trump administration has argued that only the countries’ government would benefit from the sanctions relief.

An Avianca spokeswoman referred a query to a spokeswoman for Ma’s company, Alibaba, who did not return an email seeking comment.

Cuba has closed all air and sea connections, with the exception of essential cargo and government flights, in an attempt to prevent the further introduction of coronavirus to the island.As of Friday morning, Cuba had 269 confirmed cases, 3,241 people in quarantine, 15 patients recovered from the infection and six who have died of it.

A town in western Cuba and a relatively well-off section of Havana have both been completely isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.

Cuba has free universal health care and a high ratio of medical workers, 95,000, for a population of 11 million but operates without much of the equipment and testing generally available in developed countries.

The blocking of the aid should be “an action inconceivable in a global crisis,” but “it doesn’t surprise us,” said Carlos Fernando de Cossio, Cuba’s head of U.S. affairs. “It’s the type of obstacle that Cuba confronts daily in order to take care of the country’s basic necessities.”

 

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