By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – The “temporary situation” plagues are just as dangerous as the ones in Ancient Egypt: scabies, lice, dengue, pyoderma, uncontrolled blood pressure, back pain, uncontrolled diabetes, allergies and COVID-19. This is just to give you 10, following the Bible. Nothing is said about the first nine, but they are causing as much or even more harm than the last one (the new coronavirus), and it’s very likely that it’s killing more people too.
They don’t stop with personal hygiene or other forms of prevention, although it of course helps if you take good care of yourself and try to prevent. Nor are lockdowns needed: selling medicines to the population would be enough. That’s because the majority of diseases are controllable. However, in reality, medicines aren’t easy to come by in Cuba. Not for these diseases or any others.
For over three years now, our country has been suffering medicine shortages. Something we didn’t even suffer during the Special Period crisis in the ‘90s like we are now.
Why don’t they manufacture and buy medicines with the money they’ve earned from medical missions abroad? The ones where the government takes the lion’s share of the doctors’ salaries. Isn’t this the argument (although it isn’t enough to justify it) for taking such a cut? These are questions that clash with reality.
Kenia, a local from Mayari, is epileptic and has another associated disease. She hasn’t had Carbamazepine for months now and had to go to the hospital several times to get it.
One time, they didn’t even have the medicine at the hospital to revive her and she had to be admitted until it could be found on the street. Despite transport problems, and don’t even dream about an ambulance, she has managed to make it to the hospital alive. But doctors say that she has been surprisingly strong and lucky up until now, because she has fought. Let’s hope she continues to have the same strength until medicine supplies stabilize at drug stores.
But this isn’t where the story ends: her husband has bursitis and is in a great deal of pain. But he can’t get a hold of any anti-inflammatories. He’s a farmer so he has to work in these conditions, without supplies and ACOPIO (Cuba’s State purchasing entity) is on his back to make him productive and sell them everything he harvests, unless he wants a fine. Let’s add that they all have scabies in the house too, which is uncomfortable and really affects your quality of life.
Their little granddaughter is the one who is suffering the most because she doesn’t have antihistamines to relieve the itch or antibiotics to control the pyoderma that staphylococcus and streptococcus lead to, which are carried by her nails when she itches. “It’s sad to see her with her legs full of ulcers festering pus,” Kenia says distressed.
This isn’t a poor and unsanitary home either though mind you. Not at all! To tell you the truth, you could go door to door, family to family or workplace to workplace and you would find similar stories, even worse ones.
Our people’s quality of life has taken a huge plummet because of medicine shortages in addition to the food shortages. And that is not discounting how hard it is these days to put three meals of anything on the table.
In my own house, to give you a close example, we all have scabies with ulcers of staphylococcus. I’m afraid of a disproportionate infection because it’s impossible to find antibiotics. I even asked for help on Facebook to try and hunt down medicines, although I know this will be difficult.
Just a few meters away, there is a family with several cases of dengue within the household, including two children. And they aren’t the only source. There is also a positive case of COVID-19 in the neighborhood, and the doctor from the GP clinic is in quarantine.
My parents take medicine to control their blood pressure and according to them, “they can only buy half the number of pills they need to control their blood pressure with the health card now.”
That is to say that if the doctor has prescribed one pill a day, they can only take half a pill a day or a whole pill every other day. On the contrary, they would have to spend 15 days of the month with their blood pressure under control, and they would spend the other 15 days afraid of dying with it out of balance. This is when the medicine comes in, because there are times when it isn’t available for a good while.
This is how the Cuban people are living right now, decimated by hunger and disease. Meanwhile, the Government asks them to be more productive and efficient. How to do it now when there are less resources and energy is another story. President Diaz-Canel asks farmers “to plant double” to make up for low agricultural yields because of a lack of supplies.
Wages for state workers were multiplied by five, in the best of cases, but prices of basic products and services were multiplied by 10 and even 20. The government tries to convince them that wages improved. They don’t talk about real purchasing power. Is this a joke or just plain madness?