By Giordan Rodriguez Milanes*
HAVANA TIMES — Every Tuesday, Enrique drags his feet on his way to the pharmacy on Maso Street in Manzanillo. With 80 years on his back, a stroke and diabetes, he watches the pharmacist’s ritual of opening up the store, he says good day to her, and then the old man asks: “Has my medicine come in?”
Some posters announce the virtues of spirulina and other natural medicines being sold, he asks the saleslady if they have his medicine and she replies, “No, sorry, we don’t have any of that here.”
“Just look at the empty shelves, this is what is never going to end,” Josefa says, a lady with high blood pressure and heart disease, in front of the counter in the city of Manzanillo’s main pharmacy. “Nobody can even remember when diuretics were last sold. I told my doctor not to prescribe me them anymore, that I would see whether I would die swollen or if I could find a solution with green medicine.”
An employee of one the pharmacies in this city tells me that they have sent a newsletter around warning that no more pentaerythritol tetranitrate was being produced nor other medicines that are normally prescribed to people suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure, but that nobody had told them what other medicines could substitute them, nor why they weren’t being manufactured anymore.
“We sent Emcomed – the medicine supply company in Cuba – our order a year in advance like we’re supposed to, which is already mad because, how am I going to know how many customers at this pharmacy are going to get a stomach bug and ask for novatropin, for example? And month after month, we confirm the demand for the next month, but nothing, there are already about 60 medicines that we never receive the quantity we were planned to receive for different reasons that range from national manufacturing problems to transport shortages, and about 30 are always in shortage or, when they come in, there’s been such a delay with deliveries that lines are depressing especially because the elderly are the ones who really need them.”
Yamila is one of the 32 young people who graduated in Pharmaceutics in Manzanillo last year, and she can’t find work: “We did a three month internship and only three of us now have a job and that’s because they used good connections; and you see the “old people” queuing in long lines to buy, especially on Tuesdays…”
But, pharmacy managers can’t hire more personnel: “We earn our salary according to Resolution 6, that is to say, depending on results, if medicine suppliers don’t even meet half of their deliveries, we don’t even earn half of what we could… How are we going to put more people on our books like this? To hand out our poverty?” a pharmacy manager asked me.
A neighbor questions me: “I’ve read on Cubadebate that heberferon, a medicine to treat skin cancer, is available all over Cuba; wow, and that’s a really good thing, but they can’t even ensure that there are 125 g metamizole or aspirin pills…”
“We can’t even remember when syringes and straps for blood sugar tests were given out.”
“And opticians are closed because they consumed more electricity than was expected.”
“And it’s been a year since they sold Salbutamol.”
“Why are they prescribing tolnaftate if there isn’t any, goddamnit?”
“Listen up, Mr, don’t use swear words, the girl here isn’t to blame.”
“What we need here is a journalist to criticize the…”