Cuba, the Healthcare Darling of the International Left, Is Running Out of Medicine

An elderly patient at the Geriatrics ward of Comandante Manuel Fajardo Hospital in Havana, on July 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images

Healthcare authorities in Cuba blamed a “complex situation” Tuesday for growing shortages of basic medicines that many in the country need to stay alive, stating that as many as 44 key medications will remain elusive nationwide throughout August.

The drugs listed as at risk for the greatest shortages include beta blockers for high blood pressure, hypertension medications, and antipsychotics.

Locals on the island have complained in recent months that some drugs are so difficult to find that patients and their families are forced to camp out overnight at their local pharmacy, hoping to secure a prime place in line to purchase some of the small shipments when they arrive. The shortage is part of a larger economic crisis on the island that has forced Cubans to stand on lines for hours to buy basic goods like chicken, cooking oil, and flour.

Cuba’s repressive communist regime controls the nation’s dilapidated healthcare system, which invests heavily in sending doctors abroad on what survivors of the system call slave missions in exchange for lucrative contracts that fuel the central government in Havana. The Cuban slave doctor system – which provides healthcare throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia – also functions as a propaganda campaign, successfully earning the praise of global institutions and leftist American celebrities.

At home, the Cuban regime actively manipulates health statistics to make the communist system appear more successful than it is.

Quoted in the Communist Party’s official newspaper, Granma, on Tuesday, the head of operations at Cuba’s largest medical supplier, BioCubaFarma, blamed the shortages on suppliers of the raw materials necessary to manufacture the drugs.

“We still have struggles for prime materials due to different causes related to the providers and banking problems,” Rita María García Almaguer said. “We have contracted for raw materials and, from one moment to the next, they have informed us that they cannot continue the contract for the product. So we have to go out then and find a new provider.”

García promised a “gradual response” to the raw material shortages using unspecified government resources, blaming a “complex situation” economically for the problem.

Diario de Cuba, which highlighted García’s remarks, notes that Cuba was experiencing shortages of 47 basic medications in June 2019. In July, that number dropped to between 40 and 44 drugs and officials are hoping the stabilize the shortage at that number, though “complications” could result in more shortages.

The affected drugs are all controlled through a tight rationing system, making the shortages even more impressive given that the government prevents Cubans from buying as much of any given drug as they wish. Diario de Cuba notes that among the drugs Cubans are struggling to purchase are clonazepam, a sedative used to treat anxiety; risperidone, used to treat autism and schizophrenia; and atenolol, a beta blocker used to treat chest pain and high blood pressure.

The shortages are forcing Cubans with chronic medical conditions into hours of standing on line at pharmacies, often without guarantees that the pharmacy will be stocking the drug they need.

Speaking to the U.S.-based Radio Martí this month, a local in Santa Clara identified as Joel Espinosa Medrano called his experience at local pharmacies “lamentable.”

“It is very lamentable to see people lying down in the pharmacy, on cardboard, to see if a shipment of their medicine is coming the next day, because when it does arrive there isn’t enough for everyone,” Espinosa said. “Many times, they spend the night there and get their medicine the next day.”

Granma this month that Cuba’s government health workers must face the shortages by offering “love and tenderness” to patients who will now go untreated thanks to the government’s inability to stock their medications. He also blamed pharmacies for having “only one person at the cash register” when a long line forms, stating that the line problems could be solved by more workers at the pharmacy regardless of medical supplies.

In addition to prescription medications, Cuba is facing shortages of “aspirin, bandages, thermometers, hydration salts, rubbing alcohol, and glucose testing strips,” according to the independent media outlet 14 y Medio.

Medical shortages in general are not new to Cuba, though the current scale of the problem has grown to a size unseen since the 1990s “Special Period.” Despite the shortages at home, Cuba has exported $2 billion in medications to Venezuela in the past 15 years – money likely invested in stabilizing the regime’s stranglehold on power, not the economy. Cuba still imported over 30 percent of its medications despite the large exports to Venezuela in 2015, when Cubans began complaining of growing shortages and long lines at the pharmacy.

Cuba’s communist economy is by its nature parasitic, unable to function without fueling itself off of the riches of a host. In the 1990s, its original host, the Soviet Union, collapsed, leaving Cubans with little access to food and basic goods. Cuba survived through the charity of late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, who took office in the late 1990s. With Venezuela collapsing under current socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro, Cuba’s economy is failing to stabilize.

Despite the Cuban imports, Venezuela has suffered critical shortages of 95 percent of the basic medicines the World Health Organization (WHO) lists as necessary to run a functional healthcare system since at least 2017. Hospitals in Venezuela request that patients bring their own medicine, as they can no longer stock them.

Cuba’s healthcare system, in large part due to the doctor slave trade, has long garnered praise from the international left and global academia. The current top search result on Google for the phrase “Cuba healthcare system” is an article claiming the system “has been there for its people.”

“The Cuban healthcare system, borne out of its revolutionary socialist ideology, regards accessibility to healthcare as a fundamental right of its citizens. It focuses heavily on a preventative approach to medicine and offering the simplest check-up to the most complex surgery, free of charge,” the article claims.

Celebrities like Sean Penn, Aubrey O’Day, and, perhaps most famously, Michael Moore have applauded Cuba’s healthcare. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called Cuba’s healthcare system “a model for many countries around the world” and claimed it “yielded outstanding results — lower infant mortality, higher life expectancies, universal coverage” in 2014. The pro-communist newspaper New York Times repeated the lower infant mortality rate claim at the beginning of this year, praising the “impressive job” the system does and suggesting the United States “could learn” from it.

Studies published by the National Institutes of Health found that Cuba manipulates its healthcare statistics to make them more favorable, incorrectly labeling infant deaths as “eugenic abortions” by claiming the dead person was a fetus rather than an infant.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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