Is Cuba’s Health System Ready for Covid-19?

By Circles Robinson

Ilustración: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES – The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Cuba is rising extremely fast, and the population – as well as family, friends and compatriots abroad – are quite worried.

Cuba may have hundreds of doctors to contract out to countries in need during the emergency, but the sad reality is that Cuban hospitals are in deplorable conditions, sometimes with limited water, few bed sheets and poor hygiene, not to mention the shortages of medicines and equipment. 

The doctors and nurses, of course, want to serve the population in a humane and efficient way, that’s how they were trained, but appropriate conditions are rarely there.

Yes, facilities are much better for foreigners taking advantage of Cuba’s well-known reputation as a destination for health tourism. However, for ordinary Cubans, who should be the first ones to have quality care, the reality is otherwise.

On March 11, the first 3 cases of Covid-19 in Cuba were announced on the evening government news. By March 22, the number had risen to 35.

A week later, the official figures published on March 30th, showed 170 confirmed cases, 4 dead, 1010 suspected cases and 2,681 hospitalized (including 91 foreigners and 2,590 Cubans).  Over 29,885 more are under surveillance at their homes.

Social distancing is being recommended by Cuban health authorities as one of the ways to prevent contagion. No social isolation stay home order has been issued thus far, but certain businesses including discotheques, swimming pools and gyms were ordered closed while others like bars and restaurants can remain open if they observe the social distancing.

For many people the idea of staying home would seem an impossible challenge, because they must wait in innumerable lines to obtain a small quantity of food or hygiene products when available. 

Now the government says some of those items will be rationed at the neighborhood bodega stores. But it remains to be seen if there will be enough of the most basic products to go around. Frankly, there is no indication that there will be.

The elderly, the most vulnerable to Covid-19, have the additional dilemma of having to line up for hours at the pharmacies when a certain medicine they need is reportedly for sale.

Despite having a national health system open to all citizens with no charge, this very serious global pandemic has clearly reached the Island and quickly spreads.



10 thoughts on “Is Cuba’s Health System Ready for Covid-19?

  • I am extremely fearful for the people of Cuba.
    Many of them have become personal friends over my years of travel there.
    I know what it is like wandering on foot from mercado to vegetable stand to panteria in July heat, finding most of them empty of or low on goods. Meat is almost non-existent. Chicken is equally hard to find. Now even water is low and residents must stand in line with unsanitary buckets to get a portion of water from a very unsanitary truck.
    Now add a deadly pandemic.
    The Assembly of the People’s Power is almost daily now making pronouncements that things will be okay. Relatively small numbers of confirmed cases of the coronavirus are being reported. I suspect that country-wide, those numbers, as reported, are woefully low and incorrect.
    At the same time, the Cuban government is sending as many as 30,000 doctors around the world to assist the people of other nations. And this is what perhaps worry me the most.
    While it is more than admirable– and expected from the open-hearted Cuban people– this decision could come back to haunt the regime.
    When the pandemic expands– and it will– those doctors sent away worldwide may be needed at home. In fact, I know that they will.
    Being a historian, I am a great supporter of the Revolution. In fact, I proudly call myself a Fidelista. But all of El Jefe’s glorious pronouncements and speeches cannot help a coronavirus patient breathe any easier.
    The Cuban government must step up and provide adequate medical care, adequate food and adequate water for its people.
    Hasta la victoria siempre.

    Reply
  • An obvious question; No.
    Is the Government ready with high quality propaganda; Yes.

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  • As I see photos of people waiting in lines as if it were pre-coronavirus days, I shudder to imagine the spike that Cuba, and in particular, Havana with its crowding, is about to see…and I think of friends there and hope all of them will make it through. We all want to think we’ll survive, and by the numbers, most of us will…but by the numbers, also some won’t.

    Reply
  • As Michael Ritchie will be aware, one of Cuba’s main sources of hard currency is the contracting of medical services to other countries. The staff concerned being paid less than one fifth of the charges made. Included in the medical courses in Cuba are compulsory lectures on Marx/Engels/Lenin as the Cubans involved serve a propaganda purpose in addition to their professional roles.
    I have three University qualified historians in my family (one with a Master’s degree and also qualified in Philosophy.) In consequence I cannot accept the implication by Michael Ritchie (good Scottish name) that historians are necessarily supporters of the Revolution. However, in discussion we have agreed that a revolution was necessary in Cuba and that Fidel Castro had the opportunity like Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, to hold an honoured place in history by freeing his people and introducing real democracy. But Fidel’s craving for control and personal power chose otherwise, he chose communism and dictatorship.
    Fidel’s legacy is there of executions, of persecutions, of hatred, of the insatiable lust for power and control, of pursuit of nuclear power, and that over-whelming arrogance that brought about the boasted conviction that: “History will absolve me.”
    To return to those doctors now employed in other countries, I agree that they will in due course be required in Cuba. But for those who return, they will bring an additional threat and apart from thorough individual testing, they will have to undergo a minimum two weeks in individual isolation. They unfortunately could be the tail of a tiger.
    Obviously with my home, wife and extended family in Cuba, I share Michael Ritchie’s concern that adequate medical care, food and water be made available to the populace. Having so very recently having to leave Cuba, I can say that their initial steps were sensible and clear, Diaz-Canel spoke for over twenty-five minutes on all TV stations on Friday 20th March along with the new Prime Minister Marrero, the Vice Prime Minister and several ministers, saying all the correct things (like getting people like me out of the country), but they did so to an audience of the faithful (including as usual the first Secretary of the Havana branch of PCC) in a crowded space with no masks and no regard for social distancing. By Tuesday 24th, we received a visit from a City official, repeating the message. (His wife is actually a professional colleague of my own wife. But the incompetence inherent in the Cuban “Socialismo” system is rapidly catching up with shortages of all forms of food. Another “special period” or worse is inevitable.

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  • To be honest with you it is not social distancing, it is physical distancing. Re. wearing the mask, the mask is to protect the sick person from spreading the virus, the healthy person needs not to wear it. You spend so much time touching the mask, adjusting the mask, and then touching your face and that is how the virus is spread more easily getting in your nose, ears, eyes and mouth. Plus, the mask becomes contaminated. The doctors and nurses are the ones that need the masks. Wearing the mask for sometime causes the skin to become irritated and even bleed. Then you have another issue, best not to wear it unless you are the one sick.
    Re. the doctors and nurses being sent to other countries to acquire hard currency for the Cuban government to be able to function is abuse and neglect to it’s own people.
    Where is the person’s self-worth? No wonder, they become involved with another person and get married so they can be paid a decent wage and are appreciated.

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  • In case Ginni McCanns opinion is acted upon by anyone, better to heed the advice of the health professionals. They have repeatedly explained that people infected with Covid 19 may go undetected and unaware of their condition – indeed it is thought to be a major cause of the spread of the disease. By wearing a mask, the droplets containing the virus are largely retained within it, thus helping to reduce the spread of the disease.

    Reply
  • Due to previous pandemics and now Covid-19, So Korea provides N95 masks to their citizens along with instructions on how to wear them. They state that along with ample testing plus social distancing, washing hands, not touching your face with unwashed hands and wearing a mask is the reason So Korea has been able to contain the virus and lead the world in stopping spread. The full interview with the top So Korean infectious disease doctor and spokesperson for the country is below. I follow all of the stated recommendations and wear a mask when I go out. I understand that this is not the same as wearing an N95 but I’m going to do what I can to avoid getting or spreading this evil virus.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAk7aX5hksU

    Reply
  • My Cuban Step Daughter about 5 years ago suffered a Blood disorder when I first met her Mother, After 3 trips to the Hospital in Havana a 15 hour trip, I was TOLD this Little Girl Needed Vitamin,s that her body or blood Could not absorb the Nutrition from the foods eaten. Is Cuba Ready for this Virus, We all Know & The World Knows They are NOT. I was one of the Canadians on the Last Flight OUT & My Leaving my Family Haunts Me. ASK A Cuban Doctor about the Help they Need, OR is it TOO Late.

    Reply
  • @Robert Lehman
    The folly of the Cuban regime actually encouraging more tourism in February when the effects of the virus were already known, was not merely foolish or erroneous, it bordered on being criminal. Cuba has(d) the advantage of being like New Zealand, an isolated island. Prompt action – as demonstrated by New Zealand, would have minimized the possibility or level of contagion. What prevented the regime from doing so? The greed for hard currency from the capitalist world!
    Like you Robert, I am married to a Cuban but for many more years. I too had to get out in a hurry – no option.
    When we have completed our period of self-isolation, we will still have to remain hunkered down, concerned not merely about our own safety, but more particularly that of our Cuban families endeavoring to meet social distancing, but prevented from doing so be the lack of food supplies, the necessity of almost daily shopping and the dense population in the towns and cities.
    I fear it may be as much as a year before we can return to Cuba.

    Reply
  • To All: Last Flight Out . Myself & Others of Many Nations where Bused To Havana March 25th, Starting March 26th Kept at the Hemmingway Hotel 4 nights, Moved after to a Resort closer to Airport & Near the Canadian Embassy, I Asked Many of these People How Long They Had Been In Cuba. Many Reply,s came back Less Then 15 Days. There Were Few of Us That I Call Cuban Family, Landing in Cuba Long Before Christmas. One Canadian explained how his Visa was run out & he had taken a flight to Mexico, Stayed 2 Months & Traveled to Costa Rica then Returned To Cuba & moved into isolation, This Man was suffering with medical problems. I Now Know I was Kept in the Dark as where Many of us. When Did I personally Learn of Virus 19, On My 62nd Birthday March 13 I will never Forget where I was standing in Cuba, A Canadian Family Tourist explained at City Center Las Tunas for the first Time I had herd what was happening in the World. Many Question That Will Never Be Permitted The Truth. IF I had the Gift that many of you that write your words with ease. I write of Honesty with Difficulty

    Reply

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