Friday, December 29, 2017

Setting the record straight on healthcare in Cuba

Debunking the Castro regime's healthcare claims

Cholera patients in Cuba (CNN)
Cuba has a two tiered health care system one tier for the nomenklatura and foreign tourists with hard currency that offers care with modern equipment and fully stocked pharmacies, then there is a second tier which is for the rest  with broken down equipment, run down buildings and rooms, scarce supplies, a lack of hygiene, the denial of certain services and lengthy wait times. Healthcare professionals are poorly paid and lack food.

On December 28, 2017 the Spanish news service EFE reported that the Castro regime had dismantled a network of medical officials and workers who'd adulterated a medicine for children made at the laboratories of the state-owned drug company BioCubaFarma. They replaced the active substance methylphenidate with a placebo substance in the manufacture of the drug marketed as "Ritalin." The active substance was sold on the black market. Nevertheless, The Miami Herald had an article touting the importance of importing drugs from Cuba on December 14th.

The statistics and numbers that the international community has access to with relation to the Cuban healthcare system have been manipulated by the dictatorship. Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 describes how her idealistic preconceptions were dashed by 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.  

News accounts from time to time break through the fog of communist propaganda like the EFE article cited above.

In 1997 when a Dengue epidemic broke out in Cuba the dictatorship tried to cover it up. When a courageous doctor spoke out he was locked up on June 25, 1997 and later sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero as a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison under condition he go into exile in December of 1998. The regime eventually had to recognize that there had been a dengue epidemic

On January 15, 2010 The New York Times reported the confirmed deaths of at least 20 mental patients at the Psychiatric Hospital in Cuba, known as Mazorra, due to "criminal negligence by a government characterized by its general inefficiency," a day later the Cuban government confirmed that 26 patients had died due to “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees.”

The 2012 cholera outbreak in Cuba offered an opportunity to see how the Cuban public health system operates. The well being of Cubans is not the first item on the regime's agenda. This was demonstrated in it's response. News of the outbreak in Manzanillo, in the east of the island, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to the reporting of the outlawed independent press in the island. The state controlled media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. The BBC reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship stated that it had it under control.

In July 2013 an Italian tourist returned from Cuba with severe renal failure due to Cholera. New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana during the summer of 2013 and was billed $4,700 from the government hospital. A total of 12 tourists have been identified who have contracted cholera in Cuba.

The dictatorship in Cuba has both an incredibly effective propaganda and state security apparatus however what it does not have is an effective healthcare system for Cubans. As masters of propaganda the Castro regime can produce statistics and spin a story of wonderful medical care. Officials claimed that "this is the first cholera outbreak since soon after the 1959 revolution." However, doing a search through The New York Times archives the last quarantine for Cholera it reported in a headline on Cuba was on September 16, 1916. The last cholera epidemic in Cuba ended in 1882.

 Sherri L. Porcelain is an adjunct professor who has taught Global Public Health in World Affairs at the University of Miami for more than 30 years. She wrote an important analysis titled U.S. & Cuba: A Question of Indifference? I could not find this article on the ICCAS web site, found it initially at Professor Suchlicki's Cuba Studies Institute, but it is no longer online. This is troubling and what Dr. Porcelain's analysis reveals is disturbing.
"Investment in the health of people includes protecting human rights. This means allowing the health community to speak out and not to be jailed for releasing information about a dengue epidemic considered a state secret, or not sharing timely data on a cholera outbreak until laboratory confirmation of travelers returning from Cuba arrive home with a surprising diagnosis. This causes me to reflect upon my personal interviews where the remaining vigor of public health actions in Cuba exists to fight vector and water borne diseases. Sadly, however, health professionals are directed to euphemistically use the vague terms of febrile illness in place of dengue and gastrointestinal upset for cholera, in contradiction to promoting public health transparency."
Let us hope that this myth of the Castro regime being a health care super power be debunked before any more foreign patients or tourists are negatively impacted or that policy makers in other countries seek to copy the disastrous system in the island.

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