Medicine Shortage Persists in Cuba

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

What the main pharmacy in Mayari, Holguin looks like on Monday through Thursdays.

HAVANA TIMES — Like an evil that threatens to go endemic, medicine shortages continue to deliver a blow to the Cuban people’s quality of life. Even there are many other reasons for the decline, (food, transport, extremely low salaries, etc.), this has fast become one of the most sensitive issues.

In a previous article published here on Havana Times on May 3rd under the heading Medicine Shortages in Cuba are becoming more Severe, I dealt with the issue, but the situation today is only getting worse.

Back then, around 100 medicines were in shortage, while now “we have had over 300 missing, at times; although normally we are only missing 100 or more,” a saleslady at a pharmacy responded when as a customer I asked her the question.

Pharmacies remain empty for at least five days of the week. It’s only on Fridays, and sometimes on Saturdays, that there are some of the most sought-after medicines on sale. With large lines, of course.

This happens because they are distributed on Fridays, although not all of the medicines expected arrive. “Some take over a month to return to the shelves and others have been lost completely, like cimetidine,” the pharmacist concluded.

It’s a very sad scene to see, old people lining up since Thursday night so they can get their blood pressure or diabetes pills.

The same pharmacy in Mayari after supplies are delivered on Friday.

“I came to the pharmacy and have been in line since 8 PM last night. And I was still in 6th place. The problem is that I haven’t had the medicine I take for ten days now and I’m unbalanced. The delivery truck has just come, past 2 p.m. today, Friday. Luckily, my medicine came in, enalapril, because many people had to go home after waiting so long without getting theirs because they never arrived. For example, captopril, which is also for blood pressure,” Santiago commented, a man over 60 years old.

The worst thing about all of this, is that sometimes the medicine prescribed to you doesn’t arrive and you can’t buy another one, because of bureaucracy. To do so involves considerable time consuming paperwork between the doctor’s office and the polyclinic to substitute the missing medicines.  The same thing happens with medical prescriptions. It’s impossible to get a hold of a product which is only on sale for two hours, when there is a small glitch.

And the end of this crisis doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. People are sick at home, on the street and even at work. I’m sure it not only affects people’s health and quality of life, but their productivity at work too, lethal for the government’s ambitious and very questionable development targets.

Not Raul Castro, nor his Ministers, nor the Legislators, nor government media, or the news have said a single word about this subject. It’s as if there wasn’t any problem. With such silence, they are talking even less about solutions.



61 thoughts on “Medicine Shortage Persists in Cuba

  • Such is life in a Communist country. Third world Communist countries are worse. It is what it is. Yes, your leader could solve the problem..there is no shortage of medical supplies…it’s the Cuban government’s way of acquiring and distributing them. We have no shortage here in the U.S.

    Reply
    • You are correct in your summation Dan. Yet here on Havana Times there are contributors who admire and support the Castro communist regime. Such support necessitates ignoring the plight of the people of Cuba in order to support the doctrine of Marx. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim and the Castros. There is no concern for humanity, freedom and liberty, no concern for children raised under the imposition of communism and no concern for individuality.
      You are correct also in pointing out that there is no shortage of medical supplies in the USA, that also applies to Canada and the European countries. The US embargo does not prevent their importation. The sole question is the priorities of the Castro regime. GAESA gives priority to importing gas stoves, refrigerators and other products upon which they can place very high mark-ups – up to 200%.

      Reply
      • It would be incorrect to state that the medicine shortages in Cuba are entirely due to the US embargo. There are many other factors involved.
        Nevertheless, there is a certain propagandist that contributes regularly to this comments page who is very fond of making the point that the US embargo on Cuba does not include medicines. However this contributor does have an unseemly habit of bending the facts to suit his own political views.
        It would be most interesting if anyone would care to point to any source showing that the embargo does not apply to medicines. According to the American Association for World Health the embargo prevents Cuba from accessing over 50% of the world’s medicines. This is backed up by Amnesty International and Oxfam.
        (Last time I checked, none of these three bodies were run by Communists).

        Curiously the removal of the embargo would not only benefit Cuba in terms of greater access to medicines. It would also be welcomed by many US health professionals and researchers as they would then be able to access medicines and bio-pharmaceuticals which have been developed in Cuba and are currently unavailable in the USA.

        When this topic is touched on it is always worth mentioning that statistics regarding life expectancy are broadly similar in Cuba as to the USA. Stats in Canada and some of Europe are slightly higher.

        Re the somewhat bizarre accusation that in Cuba there is ‘no concern for children’:
        Under 5 infant mortality rate is distinctly preferable in Cuba compared to the USA.
        Stats are almost exactly the same in Cuba and Canada (Europe varies).

        Its always interesting to look beyond the propaganda to the facts.

        Reply
        • Nick: the section that excludes medicines from the US trade embargo is (Pub. L. 106–387, § 1(a) [title IX, § 905], Oct. 28, 2000, 114 Stat. 1549, 1549A–69.)

          Reply
          • Nick won’t believe you Bob, he hates facts.

          • Thank You for the reference.
            The embargo did not initially include medicines.
            It was tightened in the early 60s so that it did include medicines.
            The embargo was tightened further in the 90s by the notorious Helms-Burton act.
            What you refer to is a loosening of restrictions on medical supplies.
            However the embargo still prevents Cuba from buying medicines from the USA under normal import/export conditions. Cuba cannot import medicines from USA under the same normal conditions as Canada, Mexico etc.
            Therefore, although the embargo no longer PROHIBITS export of medicines to Cuba, it still actively RESTRICTS export of medicines to Cuba.
            The fact remains that the embargo still PREVENTS normal trade between the USA and Cuba regarding medicines.

        • Time for you Nick to look beyond the propaganda of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba and address the facts.

          Reply
          • I’m afraid you are quite wrong Mr MacD…….
            I am most fond of facts. But there are different ways of reading the facts, different versions of the facts aren’t there?
            Amnesty International is not a propaganda machine. Over the years it has been critical of both Cuba and the USA.
            Given it’s neutrality and reputation, I would take the ‘Amnesty International version’ regarding the effect of the embargo on Cuba’s capacity to import medicines before the ‘Mr MacD version’ all day long.
            And incidentally I would put any propaganda from the Communist Party in Cuba and the deluge of propaganda from yourself in the same propaganda pot.

        • You now have your citation regarding the exclusion of medicines from the embargo. I would add regarding your comment on Cuban infant mortality rates that the Castro regime is notorious for “cooking the books” on self-reported data to the UN. The facts behind Castro propaganda is worth looking into. On this point we can agree.

          Reply
      • I do not hate the Castro’s, but I see nothing changing until the whole reseme is long gone. I believe that new blood will not continue on this path. I’m sure that they too await the possiblity of change

        Reply
        • I hope you are correct Dan, but think you are wrong. The “new blood” is Miguel Diaz-Canel with Bruno Rodriguez Carriles and Marino Murillo. They are a bunch of committed communist believers and practitioners. Diaz-Canel has been a Party hack since his youth, Raul selected him as his successor because he is hard core. Bruno Rodriguez has the advantage of being presentable and able to smile, but don’t be fooled, he too is hard core – note it was Bruno who eight days after Barack Obama’s offer of an olive leaf, declared that there would be no reciprocation.
          The interesting thing about Raul passing the baton is that he has yet to say that he is retiring as Head of the military. His son-in-law controls GAESA – which controls over 80% of the Cuban economy, and his son controls both internal and external ‘security’ with MININT.
          Communism of its nature always descends into dictatorship, that in turn means that one person controls. There are the three ‘politicians’ I named, plus the two Generals, members of Raul’s direct family. There could be a struggle for power, as each of the five is power driven. Lack of funding from Venezuela could exacerbate the competition!

          Reply
          • What makes you think we believe you know something. What makes you think you have all the answers. Typical Trumpite propagandist.

          • CE, try and steer your comments back to the original article instead of the tit for tat with Carlyle, who I hope will also stick to the topic.

          • CErmle, as usual you criticize others but contribute nothing.
            So here is the challenge!

            if I am incorrect in suggesting in response to Dan Makgow Smith’s comment about “the new blood”, that on the government side that is the combination of Diaz-Canel, Bruno Rodriguez and Marino Murillo and on the Raul Castro family side General Alejandro Castro Espin and General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Callejas (responsible for importations) then do please say who is?

            If you are unable to do so, you will confirm that you don’t actually have any knowledge about Cuba at all!

            Typical Marx/Leninist mouthpiece.

            Dan Makgow Smith in his contribution was responding to my comment that the US embargo does not prevent the importation of medical supplies. When I am at home in Cuba, I use the medical system, in my book I devoted a whole chapter to ‘Medical Services’. Unlike you, I do know what I am talking about.

      • Thank you Senator Joe Macarthy. You are back. We are so glad.

        Reply
    • You are correct to flag up the Cuban Governments record at distributing healthcare/medicines.
      However, as I point out in my comment below, Cuban statistics regarding life expectancy are pretty much the same as in the USA. Under 5 infant mortality statistics in Cuba are better than in the USA.
      If as you say, there is no shortage in the USA then why these statistics?
      It very much strikes me that if there is no shortage of medicine or healthcare in the USA, there must indeed be a grave issue regarding its distribution.
      So you criticise Cuba for imperfect healthcare and medicine provision yet your country quite obviously has a different version of the same problem.

      Reply
  • My wife’s grandfather would be dead were it not for the monthly care package we send which includes his prescription blood pressure medicine. His medicine has not been available in Cuban pharmacies in years. I have seen it sold at the pharmacy in the Hotel National, but not recently. Her grandfather recently asked if we could send more pills than his dosage demands so that he could share with his friends. Sadly, we had to say no. The prescription is what it is. When people wonder why I criticize the Castro regime so vigorously, here is one reason.

    Reply
      • Pipefitter, the link seems to be broken.

        Reply
    • Are you trying to tell me a licensed US pharmacist is legally filling a Cuban prescription? Is this even legal? US citizens are prosecuted if they order meds from other countries. Something doesn’t add up here.

      Reply
      • Que chismoso! (What a gossiper)

        Reply
        • Perhaps you should re-read my posting. You can’t dismiss the truth so easily. NO US based pharmacist is legally filling foreign prescriptions and sending them to other countries. IF caught they will be prosecuted for sure. You cannot dismiss the truth that easily.

          Reply
          • OK, if you must know….A French medical doctor who is involved with Medicos San Frontieres and also has admitting rights in a NYC hospital writes the prescriptions. He is sympathetic to the plight of Cubans having worked with Cuban doctors on mission in África. As a result, Cubans doctors send him their prescriptions and he finds Americans who are willing and able to pay to fill them. He visits his “patients” in Cuba several times a year. So you see, all perfectly legal.

          • That is NOT legal in any sense of the word. Sounds like a scam.

          • Completely legal. Get over yourself.

      • At least Moses generously gives you credit for gossip CErmle. With regard to prescriptions, my wife having obtained her prescription for spectacles in Cuba, obtained them from a Canadian Optician. So where is the problem? Adding up CErmle is fairly simple, 2 + 2 = 4.

        Reply
        • YOu fail to recognize that many Canadians and others go to Cuba for medical treatment, for dental work, glasses, and medication. There is no problem.

          Reply
          • Canadians CErmle have sound medical, dental, optical and pharmacy services available in their own country. How “many Canadians” can you name who go to Cuba for medical services?
            If on the other hand you had spoken of Americans and the use of the commercial services provided for foreigners only at the Clinica Cira Garcia in Havana I would agree with you. A breast augmentation there costs only $1,248 compared with over $6,000 in the US. The facilities of the clinic are far superior to those available to Cubans.
            In talking of foreigners going to Cuba for medical services, two of the outstanding cases are Maradona who went there to get dried out, and Hugo Chavez, who was operated on twice in Cuba for his cancer. (The surgeon who performed the operations is sometimes a guest in our home).
            I do not fail to recognize medical services in Cuba. I use them and have written about them. So what is your point?

          • The number of Canadian is huge, not to mention the vast numbers of Americans. It’s a great system, a wonderful country. The People of Cuba and their government must be recognized for their contribution to a better world for all,

          • Absolute bunkum. Do tell everybody CErmle the number of Canadians who went to Cuba in 2016 seeking medical services. Remember that in Cuba they have to pay, whereas at home in Canada their medical services are provided without direct payment. How many Americans (you say “vast numbers”) went to Cuba for medical services?
            Bull+#i& CErmle is your speciality you actually never give any factual information to support your claims. Does that reflect lack of knowledge or simple-minded ignorance? So come on, provide some figures!

  • What makes this more tragic is pharmaceuticals are Cuba’s #1 export, ahead of sugar, tobacco, and nickel.

    When my ex- girlfriend was dying of cancer, the syringes and needles for her morphine injections were frequently only available at the international pharmacy. She would have had even more serious problems without an understanding ex- to pay for them.

    Reply
  • Rich, excuse me but I can’t help but ask you to stop the broken record. For one the 1950s are gone forever. Was there good reason for the 1959 revolution yes. Now lets talk post-revolution. Your built in excuse theory is ridiculous but is in line with many government officials and media discourse. It belittles the Cuban people, basically telling them they can’t do anything on their own and/or with trade and relations with the rest of the world to improve their lot, and that they must put up with the same leaders and the same system for future generations as long as the embargo remains in place. So just sit back and watch the decline, its perfectly justified.

    Reply
    • Well, Circles, you can steer your ship in the manner you choose. Of course, you would never hold the “broken record” or “ridiculous” and repetitive propaganda from the likes of Moses, Carlyle, etc. accountable. I thus assume you belong to the zero portion of the 191-to-0 UN vote regarding the daily and unending assaults from the U. S. on totally innocent everyday Cubans. Allowing counter-revolutionary propagandists to dominate your site reminds me of Senator Joseph McCarthy preaching to his choir. But…so be it. You can cancel my subscription, which I should have already done.

      Reply
      • It’s very simple Rich. Despite opposing the embargo for many decades and speaking out against it, to me it is not the only issue and much less so when it comes to day to day life in today’s Cuba. That is what some of the commenters you dislike bring us with their views based on real life experiences.

        Reply
        • Hi Mr Robinson,
          The embargo is one of the big factors involved in this matter because of the way in which it prevents Cuba from trading fairly with US pharmaceutical companies and their global subsidiaries and partner companies.
          However, I think you are very correct to say that the embargo is not the only issue when it comes to day to day life in modern Cuba.
          But Rich Haney surely has a point when he alludes to individuals using this comments forum as their personal platform to pour out repetitive hatred and bitterness.
          Real life experiences you say?
          More like real life propaganda.

          Reply
          • The most constructive use of the forum is for each participant to state their opinion on a given issue/article at hand and not be so preoccupied with arguing in circles with other commenters. Let the rest of the readers, the 99% that don’t comment, judge for themselves.

          • Nick: you seem to be fixated with the embargo impacting the sale of pharmaceuticals in both directions. Not only has Cuba been able to purchase US pharmaceuticals for a long time, but as of last year the US is allowed to purchase Cuban pharmaceuticals.

            Do note I am a bit unique here contending if one look at real facts and dismissed popular rhetoric, there is almost no significant impact to Cuba remaining from the embargo. I repeatedly challenge people to point out specific situations where the embargo currently means anything. No one has come up with anything yet.

            Now I do agree that there are certain people here who can immediately turn ANY topic about Cuba into a negative rant about the Cuban government. They use a broad paint brush and have no problems assigning others into binary groups of being totally for or totally again.

          • No significant impact of the embargo left ? I must have missed the Partagas’ at the corner store, along with the Domino sugar from Cuba, along with my neighbor flying to Cuba for his vacation, along with foreign flagged ships sailing directly from Havana to the US, along with………

          • Dan, do you realize that everything you mention has no impact on Cuba? Only, potentially on you.

            Cuba exports all the fine cigars it can make from the limited amount of high quality tobacco they can grow. Yes, you may have to go farther than the corner store if you insist on Partagas, but they are available for anyone in the US that has some imagination.

            Cuba exports very little sugar because their production costs are so high. That is why they closed down half of their sugar mills. I believe Cuba is now a net importer of sugar.

            If you can’t go to Cuba, as over half a million US residents do, you simply have no imagination.

            Foreign flagged ships can now travel direct from the US to Cuba.

            OK, try again with some impacts the embargo is having on Cuba.

          • No Bob, you try again to make your rebuttal convincing. So a relative handful of tourist carried cigars creates the same revenue for the Cuban government as it would have if it could export cigars to the US ?? Be reasonable. And you are wrong about the ships as well.

          • Dan: Understand to sell more cigars in the US, Cuba would have to sell less elsewhere as the production of fine cigars is limited by their production of quality tobacco. Hence, zero impact to Cuba.

            The requirement for ships docking in Cuba not to dock in the US for 6 months went away in 2016. Have you seen the number of ships in Havana harbor that came direct from Miami?

            Making statements requires that one be more current with their facts.

            This has proven to be another classic example of someone making much noise about the embargo yet failing to come up with any meaningful current effect on Cuba once challenged.

          • If the USA has recently permitted itself to purchase medical products from Cuba then that is indeed good news. Potentially very good news for US sufferers of lung cancer. If tests prove positive for a lung cancer drug developed in Cuba, it would be outrageous if the rest of the world were to be able to use this drug but not US sufferers of that specific condition.

            I most certainly would not like to be placed in any ‘binary group’ as you put it.
            I have clearly stated that I do not see the embargo as being the cause of all Cuba’s faults. This is the Cuban Government’s traditional get out clause. They can blame everything on the embargo. I do not see things in that way. In my opinion the current government in Cuba is at fault on many levels.
            However I would also suggest that it is incorrect to state that the embargo has had or currently has no ill effect whatsoever.

            Specifically regarding medical supplies:
            It is my understanding that Cuba cannot import medicine from the USA in the same way that say Canada or Mexico can. Medical products have to be either paid for in advance or bought on credit from a third country.
            And you also may note the opinion of independent bodies I have mentioned regarding the effect of this aspect of the embargo (Amnesty Int etc…).

            I refer you to Dan’s comments below regarding other aspects of the embargo.
            If the embargo has no ill effects on Cuba whatsoever, then what is the point?
            Why not scrap it?
            Apart from anything else, why not scrap the Cuban Government’s traditional excuse?
            What remains of the embargo has been tightened very recently by the current incumbent of the White House to much fanfare in Miami.
            Surely this is due to FLA Electoral College votes?
            Don’t you think Bob, that President Obama was correct in trying to turn the page?
            Are you saying that you regard the embargo as entirely symbolic?

          • ….did someone mention a negative tanto about the Castro regime? Of course there are a handful of positive things one can say about a repressive and brutal Castro dictatorship. By how often can we talk about cigars, rum, jazz and boxing?

          • Real life hatred of dictatorships, without a doubt. Bitterness about standing by helpless watching my family in Guantánamo suffer, again no doubt. But propaganda? Depends. I also hate brussels sprouts. If I constantly commented about my opinion of brussel sprouts, is that propaganda or just my opinion?

          • Oh Moses, you are missing out on a culinary delight, but maybe the brussel sprouts you tried had not been exposed to frost – that is critical to give them full flavour. In the UK, a high percantage of the brussel sprouts are grown in the County of Bedfordshire. It used to be possible to detect the pickers by their red hands from picking frozen sprouts. What has this got to do with Cuba? Well when introduced my Cuban wife absolutely loved brussel sprouts!
            I hope you understand that Nick and CErmle will declare my comment to be propaganda. As Rich Haney is leaving us we will never know what he thinks.

          • You are obviously being paid by the brussels sprouts lobby to spread pro-brussels sprouts propaganda.

          • How did you guess? Just imagine Moses the huge sums that the lobby provides to enable me to promote those sprouts!
            That is the basis of my concern about Rich Haney’s decision to leave these pages. Although we won’t miss his historic descriptions of the evils of Batista dictatorship and admiration of Castro dictatorship, his departure reduces the size of my sample.
            When preparing those sprouts, always cut a little cross in the base of each and steam them for about 20 minutes!

          • Thanks for the advice. In the event of a nuclear winter where all vegetation has been destroyed except for brussel sprouts, I’ll be sure to take your suggestions inferiores advisement.

          • Gracias! Enjoy!

      • Would you prefer a blog where everyone agreed with your opinion 100% of the time? 50%? To be sure, your comment is McCarthyish. That is too way that because you and I disagree about the Castros, as McCarthy disagreed with the progressives of that time, you want to criticize the venue that gives space to our disagreement. By the way, subscription?

        Reply
  • Here, although the problem isn’t the embargo, it is our own government’s own priorities (since most of their reps are bought and paid for by the insurance companies, big pharma, and the corporations which own most hospitals), the consumers are restricted by the prices imposed by the pharmaceutical companies. For example, the copay for an Rx I need every month just increased 700% (and this is just for the generic); hence, of necessity I have to cut down on the dosage prescribed by my doctor. Fortunately, my doc is sympathetic, and writes scripts for several months, which allow me to drive north three hours to fill them at a pharmacy just over the border.

    Reply
  • This link is incomplete. Please repost your comment and the complete working link to the post you refer to.

    Reply
    • The complete link is “www.medicc.org/resources/embargo/Chapter%20Three.pdf”

      Reply
      • Still not working. Give me the title of the article and maybe I can get the link.

        Reply
  • “… This is my understanding. But do please check and get back to me if you find my understanding to be incorrect…”

    I don’t have to check on anything. I already told you that you are incorrect. I see that elsewhere in this thread Bob Michaels even gave you the exact citation regarding the exclusion of medicines from the embargo.

    It’s not anyone’s job to educate you further. Educate yourself.

    Cheers from Havana.

    Reply
    • Somewhat unnecessary friction in your comment but hey-ho……….
      Bob Michaels gave a citation from the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act – passed by US Congress in October 2000.
      This Act reformed certain aspects of the embargo (including that relating to medicine).
      It’s totally up to you whether you check your facts or if you prefer not to.
      I’m easy either way.
      It’s also totally up to you if you wish respond to my polite post with your slightly angry sounding comment. Have to say that I’m easy either way about that too.

      Good Cheer from Planet Earth.

      Reply
    • Nick is right. You are wrong. Simple as that.

      Reply
      • The only thing that’s simple here CErmle is that you can’t even read the link that Bob Michaels posted. Stop embarrassing yourself.

        Reply
  • There may not be any restrictions by the Cuban government. The restrictions are enforced by the U.S. Government.

    Reply
    • “… The restrictions are enforced by the U.S. Government…”

      There are none. Read the regulations yourself. The link is even posted in this thread! Stop being so blind.

      Reply
      • People are prosecuted and jailed all the time in the US for sending prescription drugs out of country. People from Cuba or any other country cannot get a prescription filled in the USA unless it’s from a recognized AMERICAN physician. You have a very limited understanding. Personally, I’m an internationalist and I’m all for getting Cuban prescriptions filled in any country, including the US, but we must face the realities.

        Reply

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