It’s Time to Support Cuba – Syringes Needed

Cuban doctors in Venezuela. File photo: Caridad

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.

These are the five vaccines that the Cuban bio tech industry is developing for local use and foreign markets and campaigns. Photo: Prensa Latina

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: 

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

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

5 thoughts on “It’s Time to Support Cuba – Syringes Needed

  • I understand that Castro’s grandson was caught speeding in a Mercedes recently.
    How many syringes could have been bought for the price of a Mercedes?

  • What people like John fail to realize is that Trump and company tightened sanctions to a point where transactions can’t be done where supplies that were exempt can be obtained. For the brainwashed out there spewing the US line, it is called U-turn transactions. Speaking from personal experience with Nicaragua, medical supplies and supposed to be exempt from that genocide by sanctions campaign, but they are blocked in practice. A coup is a coup is a coup. You are on the side of the Trumps, Rubios, and the plantation owners. The US should life the embargo. I don’t see an embargo on the Honduran dictatorship.

  • I suggest you get your facts right. Medicines, medical supplies, medical instruments, or medical equipment are generally excluded from U.S. sanctions since the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which “prohibits restrictions on the export to Cuba of medicines, subject to specified conditions and inspection requirements” with the following exceptions: to the extent such restrictions would be permitted under section 5(m) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 or section 203(b)(2) of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act; except in a case which there is a reasonable likelihood that the item to be exported will be used for purposes of torture or other human rights abuses; or if there is a reasonable likelihood that the item to be exported will be reexported; or if the item could be used in the production of any biotechnological product. The U.S. Government routinely issues licenses for the sale of medicine and medical supplies to Cuba. The real problem is that Cuba is technically bankrupt since persistently defaulting on bilions in external credits since 1986, as its unproductive and failed economy has for decades been a parasite of other states and despends on international assistance.

  • John above is 100% correct in his comment. Blame everyone but themselves is the Cuban governments attitude and stance, yet they let their people suffer medically and with hunger.
    Shame on the Cuban government to let this happen in the 21st century.

  • Michael Higgins is full of misinformation. There is no US embargo against medicine or medical equipment. Cuba can buy all the needles it could ever want from the US, china or any other country. As for the benevolent medical care that Cuba provides. The state pays doctors slave wages and pimps them out to other countries for huge profit. It is one of the regimes biggest money makers. The problem is that the state has terribly mismanaged the economy and proves once again that communism doesn’t work.

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