US sanctions bite into Cuban healthcare

US sanctions bite into Cuban healthcare – despite claims they only affect leadership US sanctions are making ordinary Cubans sick, literally. Despite Washington’s insistence that its sanctions hurt only the banks and government officials they target, the entire population is being deprived of lifesaving drugs.

Cuba, already under a US trade embargo since 1962, was hit with even stricter sanctions earlier this year in what the Trump administration calls an effort to pressure the country into dropping its support for the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro. But the economic restrictions Washington claims are meant to punish Cuba’s government are actually intensifying the suffering of its people, who are denied crucial medicines because of the blockade.

Swiss NGO MediCuba, which provides HIV, cancer and pediatric care to Cubans, found itself unable to work last month after its bank, PostFinance, halted all transfers to Cuba because of US sanctions. It was one of the last banks that processed such transactions, and foreign groups trying to operate in Cuba are left to search for another route – private institutions that charge exorbitant fees, Western Union money transfers, or even asking travelers to bring cash into the country.

While Cuba has tens of thousands of skilled physicians, even the best doctor cannot work with no resources, and the US has done its best to ensure that Cubans have as few resources as possible. Medical devices like x-ray machines are as “vintage” as the 1950s cars that have become a visual icon for visitors and parts to repair them are extremely difficult to acquire. Cuba imports 37 percent of its medicines and 85 percent of the ingredients it uses to produce medicines locally, and shortages of even common drugs like antihistamines, painkillers, contraceptives, and hypertension medications are frequent.

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Florida: "For the Nibbling Critic of Rodents"

Terrible news travels his territory, he has to return millions of dollars to his tax-payers.

Two journalists of the New Herald, Daniel Chang and Elizabeth Koh revealed this Monday that the Jackson Health from Miami-Dade county received and spent those funds illegally.

It was discovered by an audit carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States.

Thus was reported by a media, "Political", and several other publications repeated.

The aforementioned audit found that since 2010 up to 2014, Medicaid of Florida supposedly paid Jackson Health those unauthorized millions to people of low incomes and without health insurance.

Authorities discovered that in that territory those funds were not controlled, opening the gates to all sort of corrupt tricks.

It was in fact in this scenario that the Florida Health System claimed the costs of the care to undocumented migrants and prisoners who received ambulatory care.

To make matters worse, they also discovered the concealment in Florida of 64 million dollars in terms of over payments.

Mary Mayhew, Secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida, as well as of the funds distribution, refuted the discoveries of the audit.

"The result is mistaken and deceiving", she expressed in a written declaration.

The Florida President of the House of Representatives, José Oliva, republican of Miami Lakes, underestimated the already mentioned report describing it like this:

“These are disagreements among suppliers and bureaucrats from Washington that happen almost every day, especially in the field of medical care."

He added that the audit demonstrates that "the health care in this country are too bureaucratic, too complicated and too expensive."

Many there endorse it, even when their points of view only receive as an echo the nibbling critic of rodents.

The Revolution Has Multiplied the Number of Physicians in Cuba

Havana, Jul 22 (Prensa Latina) In six decades, the Cuban Revolution has multiplied by nearly 60 times its graduates from Medicine and it has rendered its assistance in that field to other peoples of the world, according to statistics published on Monday.

There were some 6,000 physicians in Cuba when the Revolution led by Fidel Castro triumphed on January 1, 1959, but half of them migrated, mainly to the United States.

Until now, including the 2019 graduation, 376,608 health professionals have been trained in Cuba, including 171,362 physicians, the newspaper Granma reported.

Cuba has nine doctors per every 1,000 inhabitants, an indicator that is similar to those shown by countries from the so-called First World, the publication underlined.

The Caribbean island has 12,000 medical institutions and nearly 500,000 healthcare workers.

More than 35,700 students from 141 countries have graduated from Cuban universities, many of whom are physicians.

Cuban medical collaborators render their services at present in 65 counties, generally in rural and poor communities.

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Cuba, example of full child vaccination coverage

The anti-vaccination movement has spread in the world. On the contrary, Cuba shows a full coverage. Cuba’s child vaccination schedule includes 11 vaccines against 13 diseases.

Fortunately for Cubans, and despite the US blockade on the island (strengthened in recent times), the health system keeps a strict surveillance on the matter.

Cubans are proud of the high rates of assistance coverage, which has enabled health indicators similar to developed nations. The country closed 2018 with the lowest infant mortality rate, 4 deaths per every 1000 live births.

Almost since the 1959 triumph, the Revolution started a few campaigns. In 1962, it created the National Immunization Program geared at preventing four diseases: poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and a clinical form of tuberculosis.

f0080729 siChild vaccination in Cuba is considered a sacred and inviolable act. (Photo: Anabel Díaz Mena)

Until that date —according to information disclosed by colleague Iris de Armas Padrino, from Cuban News Agency (ACN)— it was estimated that some 500 children died in a year as a result of communicable diseases such as whooping cough, measles and neonatal tetanus, among others.

“At present, the said program is leader in the region, accessible to the entire population and completely free, with universal coverage.”

Cuba’s child vaccination schedule includes 11 vaccines against 13 diseases, among them diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis and whooping cough.

The information provided by ACN assures that “the impact the schedule has had on the morbidity and mortality rates of vaccine-preventable diseases can be described as extraordinary, by achieving all these years the elimination of five diseases, two severe clinical forms and two serious complications.”

The phrase that reads “In Cuba there’s nothing more important than a child” is endorsed in this assistance service that protects children’s life from their birth.

The schedule you will see below shows the will of the State and the job of Cuban science to guarantee health, particularly, for the child-youth population, which has made Cuba a reference for other countries in the region and the world:

Official Vaccination Schedule of the Republic of Cuba

BCG Single dose At birth
HB (*) 1st
12-24 hours
1 month
2 months
12 months
HB (**) 1st dose 12-24 hours
Tetravalent (**)
1st dose
2nd dose
3rd dose
2 months
4 months
6 months
DPT Reactivation 18 months
Hib 1st dose
2nd dose
3rd dose
2 months
4 months
6 months
18 months
AM-BC 1st dose
2nd dose
3 months
5 months
MMR 1st dose
1 year old
1st grade (6 years old)
DT Reactivation 1st grade (6 years old)
T 1st dose
5th grade (9-10 years old)
8th grade (12-13 years old)
11th grade (15-16 years old)
TT Reactivation 9th grade (13-14 years old)

Note: The first vaccine that a child receives is mother’s milk…
Anti-polio vaccination: Through campaigns

* Children of mothers who are HbsAg-positive.
** Children of mothers who are HbsAg-negative. The child receives a birth dose of HB vaccine and the tetravalent vaccine is administered at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.


Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

Computerization of Cuban Healthcare System Noted

Promoting the potentialities of the computerization of Cuban society in the public healthcare system is one of the priorities of the Government and medical authorities.

Experts from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and local leaders analyzed the main achievements in that field and the plans for 2019 and 2020.

MINSAP Informatics and Communications Director Karel Barthelemy noted that since 2017, they have worked on the implementation of a strategy in several stages until 2030 to computerize all medical facilities and processes in Cuba.

So far, 87 Cuban hospitals have several computer programs to provide services and carry out administrative tasks.

In the next few months, the first version of the digital medical record will be installed in 16 research institutes in Havana, as well as 16 provincial hospitals, he added.

The test will allow us to tuning up the project, which began at the Manuel Fajardo Clinical Surgical Hospital in Havana, in order to spread it to other medical units at different healthcare levels, Barthelemy explained.

For her part, the director of the Manuel Fajardo Clinical Hospital, Dalsy Torres, lauded the achievements in the healthcare sector in Holguin, where the oncology, assisted reproduction and imaging services were computerized at the Vladimir Ilych Lenin Hospital.

These achievements contribute to providing better medical services to patients and to speed up the access to information, thus helping significantly to improve the patients' satisfaction.

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Cuba Provided 99 million Medical Consultations in 2018, Minister Says

Havana, Dec 28 (Prensa Latina) Medical consultations done in Cuba in 2018 amounted to 99 million, the head of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) Jose Angel Portal said on Friday.

Of that total, 86.2 million consultations corresponded to primary care level, four million more than a year ago, Portal argued on his Twitter account.

That is preventive medicine that we are enhancing! In 2019 #VamosPorMas, he added in the message.

Also on the same social network, MINSAP reported that Minister Portal headed this Friday the last meeting of the year with the provincial directors of health.

The fundamental axis of the debate is the analysis of essential issues for the development of Public Health towards 2019, the tweet adds.

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Natural therapies, a viable healthcare option

Cuba’s medical protocols for different ailments suggest the complementary use of therapies based on natural and traditional medicine, since patients respond well with the integration of this treatment, according to the country’s experts.

“Natural and traditional medicine is not the solution to poverty, but it is an option of wealth,” Raúl Castro Ruz.

The combination of natural and traditional methods with conventional treatment recommended by Cuban doctors has generated a body of knowledge that supports precise medical attention and serves to extend academic training.

Natural and traditional medicine is understood as a broad profile clinical specialty with a unique, holistic scientific focus, using techniques and procedures to promote health, prevent disease, make diagnosis, treat and rehabilitate with a medical approach based on ancestral practices and non-Western cultures.

Its principal goal is establishing a balance or correcting imbalances in human beings, based on medical thinking that considers the person as a unique whole, taking into account the individual, not just the illness. It includes awareness of the interdependence of human beings and the environment, and the impact on health of lifestyles.

This discipline bases selection of therapies on individual criteria that have as a foundation specific concepts related to health and its affectations, which generate effective, safe, and efficient treatments, since they address intrinsic causes of ailments.

This approach is used in Cuba at the primary care level and in hospitals, based on a systematic, nationwide state plan of action. The program includes ensuring the production, distribution, and sales of natural products; guaranteed medical attention; training of personnel; ongoing research and the generalization of findings; health promotion and education; in addition to supervision and evaluation of measures adopted.

All of this is captured in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, approved by Congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, and framed within the context of transformations underway in Cuban society. Guideline no. 158 from the Sixth Congress reads: Afford maximum attention to the development of Natural and Traditional Medicine; and no. 132 from the Seventh calls for ensuring the implementation of action plans to guarantee the development and consolidation of Natural and Traditional Medicine.

Dr. Silvia González Rodríguez, secretary of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine, and specialist Dr. Gilsa Asunción Cabrera Leal, believe that this approach offers patients another medical option. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Dr. Silvia González Rodríguez, secretary of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine and president of the advisory committee working with Havana’s University of Medical Sciences, explained to Granma International that the field includes traditional Chinese methods, as well as therapeutic procedures practiced by the island’s original peoples and from the long legacy of folk medicine in Cuba.

“The fundamental push for its introduction in Cuba was determined by the shortage of medications in the 1990s, caused by the economic crisis that we know as the Special Period. Today we have consolidated work carried out over 25 years. Our medical protocols for different ailments suggest the use of therapies based on natural and traditional medicine, since with the integration of this treatment, a better evolution for patients is achieved,” explained Dr. González.


The first course in acupuncture for doctors was offered in Cuba in 1962. In 1973, the “Dr. Juan Tomás Roig” medicinal plants station was established, and in 1975, the first surgery with acupuncture anesthesia was performed at Comandante Manuel Fajardo Hospital.

In 1988, the Central Pharmaceutical Laboratory attached to Havana’s University of Medical Sciences was founded, and in the 1990s several ministerial resolutions were approved to extend the use of these practices throughout the country. The Cuban Society of Bio-energetic and Natural Medicine was founded in 1996.

The first academic programs for Masters in Natural and Traditional Medicine were initiated in this decade, while in 1998 the first edition of Cuba’s Journal of Medicinal Plants was published. With the turn of the century, the subject was introduced in medical school study plans, and advanced studies became available in all provinces. More than 35% of community family doctor’s offices now have the necessary supplies to practice acupuncture and related techniques.

Among Natural and Traditional Medicine treatments offered in Cuba. Photo: Jose M. Correa

“In the courses to train specialists, we teach a series of techniques and procedures approved by our national public health system – ten at this time. In this, we integrate modern medical thinking with elements of natural, traditional medicine,” Dr. González reported.

Every year, a convocation is issued to encourage the training of specialists, and many Comprehensive General Medicine doctors, as well as others who wish to pursue a second specialty, enroll in the three-year course that includes all modalities of natural and traditional treatment recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to expert Dr. Gilsa Asunción Cabrera Leal.

“In the health technology department, there are eight major areas of study, and plans are under consideration to offer a class on natural and traditional medicine. Medical school programs have conceived a rotation in this specialty, and all teach the basic principles of the specialty with emphasis on acupressure, acupuncture, and other techniques,” explained the doctor, also a health administration specialist.

She added that eight short courses have been offered nationally for doctors in other specialties, prior to which a methodological workshop was held for those who would be delivering classes, to ensure consistency and update the bibliography to be used. Audio-conferences and other digital media were used to make the information available to more professionals.

Havana was recently the site of the Cuban Society of Natural and Traditional Medicine’s Sixth Congress, BIONAT 2018 (September 4-7), where a broad exchange of experiences took place. Of special note was the Indigenous and Afro-descendent Traditional Medicine Symposium, sponsored by the Pan American Health Organization.

Also held in this context were the Second Cuba-Japan Integrative Medicine Symposium; debates on issues like ozone therapy; complementary traditional medicine at the primary care level; and training of professionals.

The Cuban Society had a stand featuring expositions from the Traditional, Complementary, Integrative Medicine Network of the Americas, and held a natural nutritionist session, as well.

Dr. Cabrera Leal participated in a panel discussion on homeopathy, presenting the experience she gained in offering the eight programs in several provinces, commenting, “We additionally offered an open class on the use of natural and traditional medicine in the event of disasters, and presented the work of our Health Technology faculty in building ties with the community.”


The doctor invited Granma International to visit her office, where we met several patients who have benefited from this approach. A seven-year-old girl, Lía de Jesús Pérez y Borge, was there seeking treatment for frequent intestinal Giardia infections.

Her mother, Odette, reported that she first came to the clinic about a year ago, on the suggestion of friends whose children had been treated here for attention deficit. The doctor provided self-help exercises and floral therapy.

Likewise, Dilsia Rosa Verdecia, 45 years of age, has been receiving help with her allergies for a number of years. She had been prescribed antihistamines, but complementing these with homeopathy, she said, has been more effective. Niurka Herrera Sabarría was visiting for the first time, referred by her orthopedic doctor, seeking help with pain in her legs.

All agreed in pointing out that this type of treatment helps heal the body, reinforce the immune system, strengthen doctor-patient relations, reduce the use of chemical medications, and has fewer side effects and risks than other treatments.

With Life On the Shoulder

Come hell or high water, nameless and committed crews travel the cities every day distributing door-to-door of patients oxygen bottles that guarantee their lives.

It doesn't matter if it’s raining or overcasted, neither if there’s no electricity and they have to climb six flight of dark stairs; anyway, they will be there every day with the oxygen bottles on the shoulder.

After getting around those and other obstacles like mad dogs or shattered stair steps, they will call punctual to the house where a Cuban awaits for the oxygen that will allow him to keep living.

Eduardo Mario Blasco, driver of the crew, explains that they work under the Company of Industrial Gases, but it’s MINSAP the one that hands down the list of patients.

The fleet of almost 15 or 20 trucks has its base in Guanabacoa and, after the daily meeting, they depart to distribute life. “We go around the entire Havana city and also Mayabeque, Artemisa, and Güines."

Every day we distribute a rate of 40 large bottles, "but there are days of 60 and 70. We have odd hours either early morning or night time. I have had back-to-back days because the truck broke."

Eduardo Mario has worked in this for six years, before that he was a truck driver for 30 years. On board the truck prepared to transport the large bottles also go two young loaders.

"There aren’t Saturdays neither Sundays in this job, journalist. This is really a matter of life or death; if you don’t change an empty bottle for a full one, simply the sick person can die".

Says Danilo González, 27 years old, loader.

“It’s true that sometimes one feels like staying asleep, of not getting wet by rain, or of not climbing those stairways with more than a hundred pounds on shoulders. But it’s a humanitarian matter, one understands well when looking at the situation of other people who are waiting for you".

- Have there been cases where a relationship of friendship is created?

- Almost all of them. We call them through our mobiles, paying us, to know if we can stop by, if the door is locked; because the bottle must be set next to the patient ‘s bed.

- How many stairs do you climb daily?

- Countless because most of our patients live in Plaza, Centro Habana and Habana Vieja municipalities, where there are plenty of tall buildings. If we have five houses at ground level in the deliveries, that is a win. Everything is upstairs , downstairs five or six floors, because there aren’t many elevators.

- What do you friends tell you about your work?

- They simply stay silent. They know I am a loader, but they don’t imagine the real work I do. Those who see me on the street might think what’s so hard about getting carried around on a truck, but it’s not like that. It’s hard, besides the physical effort, you encounter sad stories, and also the treatment of a few patients.

Although, regularly, tight relationships are created, almost of familiarity. There are always, of course says the loader, those who protest when you deliver the oxygen bottle very early and they wanted to sleep later into the morning.

"Sometimes – says Danilo - we have arrived late at night at a house because the truck broke and when you finally arrive at the place, after such ordeals, they yell at you and complain, they tell you "are these hours to bring the oxygen, you must wait until tomorrow... nobody will wake up at this hour”.

"One can get mad at hearing those words, but you must think it over and tell yourself that is part of the job, where you care about other people, but they don’t always care about us."

Luckily, situations like this one are numbered with one hand.

The truck driver remembers that " we have cases where hot coffee and cool water are plentiful. One build friendships, and there are times when you are given a t-shirt, a pair of pants... "

Every day of the world

Eduardo Mario, the truck driver, comments of possible hazards in the job: "Grease is a mortal enemy of oxygen. The bottles cannot be manipulated neither with grease neither oil in the hands, nothing that contains lubricants, because they are flammable."

- Have you ever had an accident?

- Well, a bottle once fell on my foot, but those occupational hazards... Because I just not only sit behind the wheel, I also help downloading the bottles.

"The two boys and me have also made some sort of a family. We are neighbors, they live next to the factory and in this job which is every day of the world, I take advantage and I explain things to them.

“I tell them we don't distribute wood, neither iron, nor cement; that this is a job for the person who needs it as matter of life or death, hence responsibility to the job comes first. I will soon turn 60 years old, but I watched them be born and I have seen them grown to become good people."

  • Published in Specials
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