Medicine Shortages in Cuba Worsen

by Aurelio Pedroso   (Progreso Semanal)

farmacia-352198315_8892bdcea4-685x342HAVANA TIMES — An in-depth news interview published by the official Granma newspaper was very appropriate and convincing, about a problem that has begun to worry the Cuban people: the absence of many medicines in our pharmacies.

Appropriate because they haven’t kept Cuban citizens in the dark with a lack of information this time, and convincing because it tells us of the current and future medicine shortages we must face here.

Three persons who are inherently connected to this new problem were interviewed. Two of them belong to the BioCubaFarma group (founded in 2012) and the other one belongs to the Ministry of Public Health. Rita Maria Garcia Almaguer, BioCubaFarma’s Operations manager, was very exact when she emphasized the fact that “what’s happening today is that we don’t have the funds to pay our debts on time” so that suppliers will continue sending the raw materials and finished medicines.

The author of the news report, Lisandra Farinas, gives us details that haven’t been public knowledge up until now:

“The country’s current basic framework for medicines and natural products includes 849 drugs and 124 natural products, which should be available on the Health System.

“Out of these 849 medicines, 531 (63%) are produced by the national pharmaceutical industry and 318 (37%) are imported in their completed form by MINSAP (Ministry of Public Health). With regard to the 124 natural products, 69 are made locally and 55 are manufactured industrially.”

What is lacking and will continue to be lacking in our pharmacies and hospitals?

Teresita Rodriguez, the vice-president of BioCubaFarma, explained that “during the first five months of 2016, we kept these results (between 17-22 shortages) pretty stable, at a time when many of our resources were running out. We didn’t have the funding we needed to be able to pay back the debts we’d incurred and therefore, stabilize supply, in spite of having all of the raw materials, resources and packaging materials we need contracted out since December 2015.”

And in the face of these debts, suppliers began to delay their deliveries, to amend the payment method we use because we haven’t been able to comply with contracts, which has increased the price of these medicines etc. The outstanding payment breaks a chain that ends in local pharmacies where, today, it isn’t easy to get hold of Salbutamol in a country where there is an abundance of asthmatics.

The news report highlighted the fact that the majority of the raw materials our industry uses are purchased in China, India and Europe.

Unable to pay its debts in a timely fashion, the country’s financial situation presents a very complex panorama, especially regarding such a sensitive issue such as that of medicine and the peoples’ health.

This situation has led to the absence of imported cancer drugs as well. Likewise for medicines that should be available through the Mother and Child Program such as Prenatal, which are lacking in a substitute and are vital for the care of 100,000 pregnant women. An extraordinary effort will have to be made in order to satisfy critically ill patients’ demands and in order to ensure antibiotics, noted the Granma article.

In August, shortages of 68 medicines were recorded, occasionally affecting Salbutamol, Enapril for high blood pressure and Metformina, whose supply should be stabilized this month. The Vice-President of BioCubaFarma told us, without beating around the bush, to forget about creams, ointments and some syrups for now because they’ve run out of the materials from which to make them.

The country’s financial situation presents a very complex panorama, especially regarding such a sensitive issue such as that of medicine and the peoples’ health.

The emergency warning launched by Granma warns us that difficult times are on the horizon and that we need to use medicines sensibly and find alternative options in a country where these products are subsidized by the State and where people hoard real-life little pharmacies in their homes, handing out medicines to neighbors as if they were doctors. Doctors write these so-called prescriptions left, right and center out of indulgence while the illegal sale of medicines on the black market due to theft from the government pharmacy chain is growing every day.

An aspirin won’t be able to get rid of this pain. We’ll have to tighten our belts and establish razor-sharp financial control so that resources aren’t misused now that this year is about to end and 2017 is coming fast, and to put it in medical terms, with an indisposition because it won’t have what we contracted out for it or much less paid for in 2016.

3 thoughts on “Medicine Shortages in Cuba Worsen

  • i need to know if i can buy sofosbuvir at a foreign pharmacy in cuba , my friends mother needs this medication, or if it can be shipped from india. as here in canada i cannot get it without a percription and it is like 80,000 for a twelve week course

  • i need to know if i can buy sofosbuvir in cuba , or if a pharmacy can order it from india at the cheaper price , there is a cuban friend who needs this medication for his mother , and in canada we need a percription , and this medication is outragious.

  • “We’ll have to tighten our belts and establish razor-sharp financial control …”

    That’s the problem: the state attempts to maintain sharp financial control of all aspects of the Cuban economy, which is impossible to do accurately or without corruption. Socialism always leads to inefficient allocation of resources, corruption, pilfering and black marketeering. This is the root cause of shortages.

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