Cuba Faces Lingering Medicine Shortages

By Pilar Montes

A Cuban pharmacy.

HAVANA TIMES — In June 2018, the list of available essential medicines in Cuba was short by 45 drugs, according to Public Health authorities.

Official sources say that shortages today aren’t as serious as they were last year, when missing medicines reached a peak number of 150 in August, 18 of which were essential basic drugs.

Three years ago, Juventud Rebelde newspaper published an article in their June 2nd 2015 edition which collected statements from doctor Jose L.Fernandez Yero, first vice-president of the BioCubaFarma Business Group, who responded to readers who were complaining about medicine shortages.  

Fernandez Yero explained that “Cuba’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry is regulated by international laws.”

“The country has an essential medicines list with 857 products, and the stock of this industry (including chemical, biological, biotechnological medicines, diagnostic devices and medical equipment) reaches 1,099.”

Yero added that every product requires multiple components which come from different places and suppliers always have to be assessed, approved and registered, with no exception. If they are lacking in quality, receive negative assessments or any other reason, then they need to find and assess another supplier which is a long and expensive process.

He further noted that a large number of suppliers “are from very far-away markets, like India and China”, while he said that the industry had only been a part of the BioCubaFarma group for 30 months, and was undercapitalized and labs and pharmaceutical manufacturing plants were being modernized.

The industry never met demand in the past and it still doesn’t today, especially of medicines which are very popular and cheap, like Duralgina or Dipyrone, when consumption stands at 70 million tablets every month and about 870-900 million of these are imported every year. Instead, within their productive capacity, they prioritize more strategic medicines such as Enalapril and Captopril, which are prescribed to people with high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as other medicines such as Glibenclamide, Metformin and Insulin for diabetics.

According to Doctor Emilio Delgado Iznaga, director of MINSAP’s Medicines and Medical Technologies, this “lack of coverage” is due to the fact that even though the industry meets its production targets, it still doesn’t produce enough so that medicines don’t run out at pharmacies.

Another very important factor is that sometimes suppliers aren’t paid on time, which can slow down replenishing stocks.

Medicines on the black market

Taking advantage of medicine shortages, the “black market” for medicines is booming.

Sellers’ lack of scruples is combined with the sale of expired medicines or medicines that aren’t handled appropriately. There is a skit on Cuban TV which shows a man who buys a baguette and he takes out the middle of the bread to then fill it with pills.

Then, this person goes out to sell them to people in need, including a mother who has a sick son and as a result of the medicine she gave him, had to urgently take him to the hospital.

Because Cubans ridicule their problems, in the comedy program “Vivir del Cuento” (Living by your wits), its main character Panfilo, the typical elderly pensioner with a low income, learns about a woman on the block who is called “the pharmacy”.

Whatever drug Panfilo asked for, Epifanio (the name of this character) took it out of her big bag. In the end, Panfilo was happy with his medicine purchases but was shocked when the woman told him that it would be a total of “one-eighty”, to which Panfilo jubilantly replied, “How cheap!”. Seeing that he hadn’t understood, the seller corrected him, “Panfilo, that’s 180 pesos” (about 20 pesos less than his monthly pension).

Stricter controls on prescriptions and sales at pharmacies are some of the measures that have been adopted recently. The reality is that until people see that there is a steady and sufficient supply of medicines they need at the State pharmacies the black market will continue to flourish and the health of Cubans aged 60 and over is greatly affected.

16 thoughts on “Cuba Faces Lingering Medicine Shortages

  • July 4, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Can you Nick name one capitalist country that is short of 45 essential medicines? As a practitioner of ideological bias, you ought to be able to provide answers!
    Have you suddenly become a follower of things biblical?

  • July 3, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Well ask Mr Google…..

  • July 3, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    It’s called perspective.
    Putting matters into perspective.
    Something that you seem unable to do Mr MacD.
    It’s not a question of being a fuddy duddy or any other such thing.
    I constantly criticise the Cuban government and in this instance have specifically said that they stand wholly responsible for medical shortages.
    But my point is that this is not a question of heaven or hell or good or evil or any other quasi biblical non-reason.
    The reasoned and objective viewpoint would clearly suggest that Cuba is not the only country in the world that suffers from medical shortages.
    Many capitalist countries are also afflicted with this same problem.
    To state otherwise and refute reality would be evidence of blatant ideological bias.
    And none of us want to be guilty of blatant ideological bias do we Mr MacD?

  • July 3, 2018 at 11:26 am

    You should note Noman, Patricia and Moses, that Nick has managed to divert discussion away from the subject matter of the shortage – the non availability of some 45 essential medicines in Cuba.
    That is Nick’s modus operandi, divert attention away from criticism of the Castro communist regime, its incompetence and repression onto other’s and in particular the US. Although Nick professes to not be a communist supporter, his acquiescence to communist activities and refusal to admit that dictatorship is evil amounts to acceptance. Nick then suggests that my own condemnation of dictatorship is dividing everything into “good and evil”. Again endeavoring to diminish the reality and to pose as “balanced” in his opinions. His next move has been to imply that I am just an out-of-date old fuddy-duddy because he has recognized that my views based as they are upon prolonged knowledge of the reality of communism undermine his subtle acceptance of it – for others and in particular Cubans!

  • July 3, 2018 at 7:26 am

    In my lifetime I have never experienced nor been aware of any shortage of any medicine.

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