The death of eight babies in Havana puts the focus on the dramatic state of the health system of the Cuban regime
The dictatorship of Miguel Díaz-Canel invests fifteen times more in hotels than in the health sector. Medicines are in short supply and there is also a lack of professionals because the regime sends the vast majority of doctors abroad as slave labor
Hijas de Galicia Maternal and Child Hospital, in Havana. (Photo: Hablemos Press)
The death in recent days in a Havana hospital of eight premature and low birth weight babies-four of them presumably with sepsis- has focused on the state of Cuban public health, one of the pillars of the socialist revolution of 1959.
Dolores and her husband Germán –fictitious names– did not imagine what the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) of the Cuban dictatorship would report on what happened in the hospital where their son was born just a few years ago few days. Until before the statement, they only had the bad experience they lived in the center known as “Hijas de Galicia”.
“Only on the third day of being there did they go to clean his room, which he shared with another person. Already at 10 at night there was no doctor in case you had any pain,” Germán told EFE.
One day before Dolores was discharged, the couple learned that four newborns had died there. “You can imagine that all the moms were going out on their own after that,” he laments.
The MINSAP, which has recognized an increase in complications in newborns since “the second half of December”, assures that after the eight deaths of newborns “measures have been adopted to deal with” the situation.
DETERIORATION OF HOSPITALS
The case of the “Hijas de Galicia” is not an anecdote. Experts agree in warning of the deterioration of the health system in a country seen for decades as a health power.
According to an analysis by the Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, published in the independent media El Toque and which takes figures from the official statistical yearbooks, the regime has cut spending since 2007 to adjust it to their economic capacity.
This, says Mesa-Lago, significantly reduced the resources for financing social assistance and public health.
According to the Minsap statistical yearbook for 2020 – the latest available – Cuba has more than 90 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants, practically triple the number recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, Mesa-Lago explains, in a telephone conversation with EFE, that around half of family doctors are abroad. The export of professional services, especially healthcare, is Cuba's main source of foreign exchange, above tourism and remittances.
In the image a record of the dictator of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel. EFE/File
The emeritus professor of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania, USA), also stressed that the number of hospitals decreased between 2008 and 2021 by 32%, according to official figures.
“It is clear that there has been a considerable deterioration in the health system,” he concludes.
This decline contrasts with the investments that have disbursed by the State in other branches, such as the construction of hotels.
In fact, according to the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei), Cuba invested fifteen times more in hotel construction and other real estate activities between January and September 2022 than in social services and health.
SHORTAGE OF MEDICINES
The deterioration Mesa-Lago is talking about is not just numbers. Many Cubans have had or know someone with a bad experience. And the state of hospitals is, in many cases, obvious to the naked eye.
Added to this are the deficiencies typical of a country in a deep economic crisis for more than two years and that extends to vital issues such as the lack of basic sanitary material and medicines.
A mother with her son in her arms leaves a pediatric hospital in Havana, Cuba, in a file photograph. EFE/Yander Zamora
The dictatorship blames this and other problems on US sanctions. For Mesa-Lago, the embargo is a factor, but not the only one. He also cites the pandemic and the country's economic system. “The right attributes everything to communism and the left attributes everything to the embargo (…) They are simplistic positions”, he stresses.
The economist adds that in the case of a lack of medicines, the origin could be in China and not in the United States.
“China exported (to the island) inputs for the production of medicines and that stopped it because Cuba had a huge trade deficit with that country. It is estimated that replacing the unavailable drugs in the basic table would cost 500 million dollars and importing the supplies another 500″, he adds.
The state group of the biopharmaceutical industry (BioCubaFarma) assured in last May that 94% of the shortage is explained by the “non-availability of raw materials”.
In a recent interview in the official regional newspaper Escambray, Ángel Luis Chacón, general director of The Medicines Marketing and Distributor Company (Emcomed) pointed out that more than 50% of the basic list of medicines “has been affected”.
With information from EFE