Public health facilities face an increasingly worsening situation with the pandemic
HAVANA TIMES – Cuba has been experiencing the most critical moment of the pandemic and one of the worst health crises in Latin America for a couple of months, reports the BBC.
Although it managed to keep the coronavirus contained for much of 2020, it is currently the place with the highest number of infections per capita of the entire continent and one of the first in the world.
On August 1, the country reported 9,279 cases, more than 94,000 people admitted and some 68 deaths from covid-19, although opposition organizations denounce that the number of infections and deaths is much higher than officially recognized.
In total, some 2,913 people have died according to official figures published up to August 1 in the country of 11.2 million.
Experts consulted by BBC Mundo explained that there are several basic factors behind this critical situation:
• The country, dependent on tourism, partially opened its borders for visitors with tourist packages, which allowed the entry of new, more contagious variants.
• Despite the confinement measures, Cubans have had to stand in long lines and crowds for months to buy food, which facilitates person-to-person infections.
• The country, which developed a rigorous screening strategy, has presented limitations for conducting coronavirus detection tests, mainly PCR. There are reports of people queuing for hours or days to take the test, if available.
• Almost the entire population only has homemade masks made of cloth (surgical or other more efficient ones are not sold) and access to soap for washing hands and other hygienic products, such as antibacterial gel, is scarce. That favors the transmission of the virus and the most contagious variants.
Cuba was slow to start and massify its vaccination campaign – it was the last country in the Americas to do so – after it refused to be part of the Covax mechanism (which brings vaccines against covid-19 to poor nations) and bet, instead, for the development of its own vaccines that it already administers to the population.
The Island has approved two nationally produced vaccines to date (Abdala and Soberana 02), the first country on the continent to achieve this. It is currently one of the world’s that administers the most vaccines per day per 100 inhabitants, but the process has had ups and downs due to a lack of supplies such as syringes.
These factors, which have contributed to the explosion of cases, have put the island’s health system to the limit, which already suffered from a generalized shortage of medicines, a lack of personnel and serious infrastructure problems.
Hospitals on the brink
In recent months, photos, testimonies and videos published on social networks reveal empty pharmacies and full hospitals and isolation centers, with people sleeping – and even dying – in the corridors.
There are also reports of patients who have died at home due to lack of medical attention or waiting to be transferred urgently to hospitals.
This was the case of Lisveilis Echenique, who told BBC Mundo that her brother Liosvel, 35, died at her home, in the province of Ciego de Ávila, after asking for an ambulance for hours.
“He started with a very high fever. I called the number of a rapid response brigade someone gave me and they came to the house, saw him and told me that he was not serious enough to admit him and that there were no beds anyhow. Likewise, there were no Medicines to bring him, saying he better stay at home. The same doctor told me that what they had to lower the fever was a lotion made from pino macho (Caribbean pine).”
“When he collapsed after 10 days of fever, I started calling again and nothing. I ran to the polyclinic in the middle of the night and implored that they go to see my brother for first aid, but nobody went. And I didn’t have a way to take him to the hospital at one in the morning. He called crying to ask for an ambulance and nothing… My brother couldn’t resist any more. The next day, 12 hours later, they still hadn’t picked up the body.”
After the massive protests on July 11 on the island, dozens of Cubans took to social networks to complain about the extensive deployment of police and state security agents in buses, trucks and vehicles to repress the protesters when the government had previously alleged that they had no gasoline for ambulances.
After seeing the modern anti-riot equipment, brought out for the first time in the streets of the country, many also questioned why the government had spent its money on these devices instead of buying medicines to face the health crisis.