By Michael Wiggin*
HAVANA TIMES – Last week, it was announced (Marc Frank, Reuters) that Cuba had now completed testing on a second COVID-19 vaccine called Soberana 02 in addition to the Abdala vaccine. Both are claimed to have over 90% efficiency. Unlike most industrialized countries that depend upon foreign multinational companies (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca) Cuba is the only Latin American country that has developed its own vaccines. Cuba, which already produces 80% of vaccines for domestic consumption has started an accelerated vaccination program.
To date, some 6 million doses of the Abdala vaccine have been administered (three are needed to complete the treatment). But now, their vaccination efforts are hampered by a shortage of syringes. It is disheartening to realize that the selfless worldwide medical assistance Cuba has provided for years has left them with shortages of medical equipment.
Cuba’s international medical support has been significant. Despite economic difficulties, when Covid-19 hit, Cuba already had about 29,000 medical personnel working in 59 countries around the world. Many of these are poverty-stricken nations such as in sub-Saharan Africa. This is more than all of the G-7 nations combined. Cuba’s support for other nations is part of its well-established policy of medical internationalism.
As many developing countries were overwhelmed by COVID-19, Cuba created 57 brigades with about 5,000 doctors and other support personnel that travelled to provide medical aid in 40 countries. Cuba has received international accolades for its singular role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This is illustrated by the numerous nominations of Cuba’s internationalist medical contingent – the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade against Disasters and Serious Epidemics – for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. As of February, of this year, there were still 2,500 Cuban medical personnel in 6 countries.
This is not new. As early as 1960, Cuba sent medical staff to help with the Chilean earthquake. In 1963, doctors helped Algeria establish a national medical system. More recently in Haiti in 2010, when the earthquake struck there were already 403 Cuban medical personnel working with 400 Haitian doctors trained in Cuba. They were joined by 60 more medical staff as well as 138 fifth year Haitian medical students training in Cuba.
Then, between 2013 and 2016, Cuba was the first to help when the World Health Organization requested help with Ebola in western Africa. And when the Chernobyl reactor failed in the Ukraine, Cuba treated23,000 affected children and accommodated them and family members between 1990 and 2011.
To give some idea of the impact, since 1960 international efforts have involved over 420,000 Cuban medical personnel in over 150 countries, performing over 14,500,000 surgeries, delivering 4,470,000 children, and saving 8,700,000 lives (Prensa Latina, 2021). And all of this from a country of only 11.2 million.
However, despite all of these contributions and achievements, Cuba is, like many countries, experiencing economic distress made worse by the US blockade/embargo. U.S. economic sanctions severely limit the island’s access to equipment and other necessary items required to preserve the health of Cubans. Global Health Partners (GHP) reported that Cuba is in need of about 20 million syringes of which GHP has already supplied 4 million.
Out of respect for Cuba’s international medical contributions, that puts most wealthier countries to shame, I am calling on everyone to donate to help with the syringe shortage and Cuba’s medical efforts. You can donate through Global Health Partners. Here is the link to the fundraising page: https://ghpartners.org/syringes4cuba/
In preparation of this article, I heard criticism of mismanagement of the economy, shortages of even the most basic pharmaceuticals, a lack of transparency on how revenues from medical support are spent. These may be true, but for today with surging COVID 19 cases in Cuba, we must think of the people. For decades Cuba has shown its generosity and compassion to countries throughout the world. Now should be our turn to help a neighbour when it needs support.
*Michael Wiggin, a Havana Times guest writer