Photo: Director of Epidemiology of the Cuban Ministry of Health Dr. Francisco Durán García, in his daily press conference
Yesterday, the United States surpassed 140,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 3.7 million people in the U.S. are known to have fallen ill, by far the largest number of cases in the world.
The Trump administration’s monumentally criminal refusal to wage effective war on the virus has caused needless suffering for millions. Tens of millions of people are being driven to economic ruin, with unemployment, no health care, and mass evictions looming.
But the pandemic’s disastrous results in the U.S. were not inevitable.
Socialist Cuba is proof
Today, July 20, 13 of Cuba’s 15 provinces — minus Havana and nearby Mayabeque — will move to the third phase of reopening. In the last 28 days, two full incubation periods, the 13 provinces plus the Isle of Youth have had zero incidence of COVID.
Phase three means that all commercial and productive activity can resume, with food establishments, stores, and services able to open. Masks are still required in public, and mass events like the Carnivals that normally take place in July in Cuba are suspended.
Although Havana is still in phase one, the incidence of new COVID cases is extremely low. There was only one new positive case in all of Cuba yesterday. There have been a total of 2,446 positive cases since COVID-19 first appeared in the island, with 87 people who have died. Cuba’s population is 11.2 million.
How has Cuba been able to flatten the curve?
The people’s right to life and health
The government and people are guided by the conviction that the people’s health is the priority. The famous billboard at the entrance of Calixto García hospital in Havana cites Che Guevara: “The life of one human being is worth a million times more than all the properties of the richest man in the world.”
As the pandemic became known, swift action by the Cuban government prevented a widespread outbreak. The first cases appeared in two tourists who arrived in March from Italy, where the illness was already raging. Soon other cases presented in tourists from Mexico and Germany, and Cubans returning from abroad.
To protect the population, the Cuban government stopped the influx of tourists, a hard hit to the economy, but an essential measure to protect the population. Tourism is a major source of hard currency for the country and income for Cubans in tourism, hotels, restaurants, room rentals, artisanry, and taxis. All public transportation of buses and taxis was stopped to minimize close contact and infection.
Cuba is organized in each neighborhood block and residential building, in the Committees in Defense of the Revolution. The country’s Civil Defense has a key role as well. No one is left alone or unaccounted for.
When any person tests positive, contact tracing is conducted immediately and there is careful monitoring for any change in health. Granma daily newspaper lists the cases of persons, without identification, who test positive along with their health status. It is a way to inform the public that there is COVID incidence and to maintain caution. One example:
“Cuban citizen of 40 years, resident of Cerro municipality, Havana province. Was in contact with a confirmed case. There are 11 contacts being monitored.”
Unlike White House lies and its quack “science” that have misled many people to disbelieve the seriousness of COVID-19, Cuba’s citizens are given daily updates on TV, radio and by newspaper by doctors, epidemiologists and political leaders. Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology in the Ministry of Health, is a popular and respected figure with his 9 a.m. press conferences on the latest statistics.
Adherence to social distancing, complying with national health directives, and using masks, the population cooperates because of a strong sentiment of social responsibility and respect for science.
Wearing a mask is not seen as denying one’s “freedom” but a logical way of minimizing spread. This attitude did not arise with COVID. It is a longstanding culture in the Cuban people of the collective body and trust in the Revolution and its institutions.
The government, the Communist Party of Cuba, the mass organizations of women, workers, farmers, students, and youth, the Committees in Defense of the Revolution and the military, all are engaged in this fight.
Fundamental to Cuba’s ability to weather the storm is its socialist system. Evictions, inability to pay rent, foreclosures, these are not the experience of Cubans, unlike the day-to-day struggle for people in the U.S.
Almost all Cubans own a home, thanks to the urban-housing revolutionary laws of the early 1960s. For those who rent, rent is limited to 10 percent of one household member’s income. Landlordism is not a phenomenon in Cuba.
Another benefit is Cuba’s free, universal and accessible health care system. No one pays anything to be treated by a doctor or to be hospitalized, no matter the duration nor the procedure. There are no parasitic insurance companies granting only partial coverage or denying it outright. The health care system includes family doctors and nurses who live in the neighborhoods, as the first level of care, accessible 24 hours.
Cuban doctors volunteer worldwide
Cuba has 95,000 doctors and 85,000 nurses, one of the highest rates per capita in the world.
And Cuba’s medical solidarity with the peoples of the world is well known. Organized as the renowned Henry Reeve International Brigades, Cuba’s doctors and nurses have volunteered in 70 countries with the primary mission of combating COVID-19.
From Italy to Gambia, Azerbaijan, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Andorra, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Kuwait and much more, Cuban doctors and nurses have come to the aid of countries that need their vital experience in international missions.
The brigades were inaugurated in 2005 soon after George W. Bush refused Cuba’s offer to send 1,000 doctors to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Cuban President Fidel Castro then proposed a special brigade of Cuban medical workers to assist in emergencies worldwide. He named it the Henry Reeve International Brigade, after the young Union Army soldier in the U.S. Civil War who volunteered to join Cuba’s 1868 war of independence. Reeve died in battle in 1876. The Brigades have received high accolades for their life-saving feats and are nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, with widespread international support.
Sadly, an example of Cuban doctors’ absence is Bolivia. After the November 2019 right-wing coup ousted President Evo Morales, Cuba’s more than 650 doctors and health technicians were ordered to leave by the new dictatorship. Now, with a nonexistent health system for Bolivia’s poor, there are reports of up to 20 to 40 bodies daily in the streets of people who died due to the coronavirus.
In Cuba, the infection rate is 0.71 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with about 29 per 100,000 for the United States, according to John’s Hopkins University.
In Cuba at least 80 percent of the patients who reach critical stage recover, because of the combined use of two medications. One is Heberon. Known by its commercial name, it is an anti-viral Interferon called Alfa 2B Human Recombinant. The other is a medicine called Itolizumab, that was developed in Cuba to treat lymphomas and leukemia. Together the two medications are very effective. Cuba just announced that India will mass produce it for use in that country. Like much of the industrial world, Cuba’s scientists and researchers are working hard to improve treatments and develop a vaccine. But unlike the capitalist pharmaceutical industry, the medicines Cuba produces is for health, not profit.
Cuba’s achievement despite U.S. blockade
One could have thought with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that humanitarian concerns would guide all governments to work together to overcome a worldwide pandemic.
Not the case with the U.S. government, in fact the opposite. The U.S. economic blockade has actually become more severe, denying Cuba the right to obtain medications and supplies, not only from the U.S. but other countries as well. When China flew planeloads of PPE and ventilators to 50 countries, its shipment to Cuba was blocked because Washington threatened sanctions on the carrier. In a double attack on both Venezuela and Cuba, oil shipments to Cuba are blocked as well.
Cuba has not escaped the hardships of the world economic crisis that has severely impacted every country. But amidst a pandemic that has ravaged the world, Cuba’s socialism is proving superior to anything that the richest country in the world can claim. There is no comparison.
The U.S. media also exercises a blockade with its self-censorship of Cuba’s remarkable work combating the virus. Imagine if the people of the United States knew of Cuba’s achievement against COVID-19, where the people experience infinitesimal cases of illness and death compared to our own country. So many lives have been needlessly lost in the United States, and families and society suffer the consequences.
Cuban President Díaz-Canel spoke on July 18 to publicly announce new economic measures to overcome the economic challenges. Details will be revealed to the public soon. Of Cuba’s struggle in the face of the pandemic, he said:
“Despite the lack of resources, we managed to control the pandemic and, although we regret the loss of 87 lives, which is minimal compared to what is happening in the world, we are consoled and encouraged that no child, no doctor or health care worker died; that our Health System did not collapse; that the Government supported the coordinated action of the Cuban Health System and our scientists with indisputable results; that our medical protocols saved more lives than those implemented elsewhere; that we maintain transparent and systematic communication with the population and that we have supported dozens of countries with our medical brigades, gaining the respect and admiration of the world.
“The Revolution, in its historical evolution, has constantly and invariably proven its vocation for social justice, and no one can doubt that. No one is abandoned in our country. That is how it has been, that is how it is and will always be. We owe ourselves to the people to whom we belong, we respect and love them and we work for their well-being.
“Under this premise, which gives meaning to our lives, we have considered how to face the new situation imposed by the post-COVID-19 world, not only to resist but to advance and strengthen ourselves.”