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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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