Fabian Flores (Cafe Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government has announced that its public health system will prioritize the purchase of specialized equipment and disposable diapers to address the challenges posed by the island’s elderly.
“The aging of the population is a phenomenon that involves us all and we must urgently make more wheelchairs, canes, orthopedic mattresses, oxygen tanks, Fowler beds and bedpans available, as well as finance the repair of nurseries and facilities for senior citizens,” said Minister of Public Health Roberto Morales Ojeda during a press conference this past Wednesday.
The Minister also commented that the purchase of disposable diapers for senior citizens is of concern and added that health authorities are evaluating the possibility of manufacturing these in the country, without specifying a date.
Diapers under Discussion
The problem surrounding disposable diapers has come a long way since December of 2012, when President Raul Castro referred to the problem at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, but no concrete measure has been taken to date. Disposable diapers for adults and children are sold at Cuba’s hard-currency stores at prices that are prohibitive for the average Cuban, and they have also become increasingly hard to find of late [even at the exorbitant prices].
Criticisms regarding the care of the elderly – the sector most severely hit by the economic reforms implemented by Raul Castro – are frequent at work meetings and street level. At the close of January, independent journalists reported the death of five senior citizens at the Chung Wah home for the elderly located in Havana’s neighborhood of San Miguel del Padron. The deaths were chalked up to the poor quality of services and lack of resources.
At the meeting with Morales Ojeda, authorities reported that the Ministry of Public Helth will invest some US $ 91 million this year to purchase spare parts for equipment at hospitals and polyclinics around the country and to acquire new medical technologies.
Of this budget, some US $48 million will be destined to the purchase of spare parts for equipment that is inoperative, while the remaining US $43 million will be used to purchase replacement equipment and new technologies.
Shortages and Excuses
“We are aware of the material and technological shortages that some hospital facilities continue to face and we have made it a priority to overcome these gradually,” the Minister underscored.
Morales Ojeda insisted there is no excuse for failing to maintain the basic conditions needed to care for patients and their companions at hospitals, and blamed the administrators of health institutions for the shortage of sheets, pajamas, soap, bedspreads and other products that ought to be “guaranteed.”
He added that people must be made more aware of health issues in order to prevent the spread of cholera, dengue and other diarrheal diseases that have hit the country in recent years.
Minister Morales Ojeda reaffirmed that Cuban health services will not be affected by the sending of medical personnel to Brazil and other regions around the world, as the population fears. He announced that by March 20 a total of 11,430 Cuban doctors will have arrived in Brazil.
A total of 50,000 Cuban health professionals are currently working in 66 countries around the world. Most of them, some 35,000, are in Venezuela.