Republic of Cuba is an archipelago of 11.27 million inhabitants located in South America. The healthcare system of the country is considered as one of El Commandante’s greatest achievements. It was borne out of revolutions socialist ideology which envisioned healthcare accessibility as a fundamental right of all Cuban citizens. In 2014, the then United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon during an official visit to Cuba termed its healthcare system as “a model for many countries” to follow. The country over the years has offered scholarships to foreign students including those from United States and Europe. A number of low income families from across the world have benefited from the medical schools of Cuba. The Latin American School of Medicine (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina) is one of the largest medical schools in the region which hosts thousands of students from over 100 different nations. Cuban health workers have in the past contributing in elimination of polio, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and diphtheria. During the Corona virus epidemic healthcare workers were sent to at least 21 countries by the government, notably to Italy and South Africa. President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba has recently declared COVID- 19 as “under control in the country”. The article in the light of the above developments provides an analysis of the policy adopted by Cuba to contain the novel virus that has shaken global operations.
Strategies Adopted to Contain COVID-19
Cuba before closing its border increased monitoring at the port, airports and marinas. In this period, travelers arriving with symptoms were hospitalized in isolation for at least 14 days. A case detection strategy was adopted to deal with larger population groups using rapid tests and real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. The people who were most prone to virus were identified and record was maintained of those individuals coming from high-risk countries. They were then placed in isolation centers for diagnosis and testing by RT-PCR. Post-mortem of persons having died with respiratory or diarrheal symptoms was also carried out by health professionals to identify virus circumstances and patterns. Healthcare specialists used rapid tests on larger population which in Cuba’s case proved quicker and cost-effective. Door-to-door screening drive was undertaken with the partaking of medical students. When a case was confirmed, contact tracing was started to also identify those people who potentially had the risk to develop the novel virus. These policy steps resulted in early identification of cases. It was reported that up to 2.5 million people a day were screened by going house-to-house. Patients were hospitalized for at least 15 days, by the end of this period if they were declared symptoms-free and in recovering stage, they were once more tested by RT-PCR. If the results were negative, they get a clinical discharge to return to their home with a restricted movement for further 15 day period. After this time, RT-PCR test is repeated after which they can return to their normal activities. However, if the test is declared positive, it is repeated again in 5 days and if it proves positive the patient is readmitted to the hospital until the test is proven negative.
An intense media campaign was also initiated by Cuban government where the public were informed regarding the dangers and precautions of COVID-19 virus. Scientists and medical practitioners affiliated with various organization teamed up with BioCubaFarma to develop medications to treat COVID-19. Work was also carried out to develop digital applications that allow facilitate people with symptoms to communicate with health professionals for medical instructions. The policy has been successful as a result of inter-sectoral partaking by local communities along with government agencies such as Ministries of Education, Immigration and Customs and Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The Cuban healthcare system suffers critically as a result of American sanctions. Nevertheless, Cuba upgraded its diagnostic lab facilities in Havana where the National Civil Defense Scientific Research Center has capacity to undertake 1000 RT-PCR tests daily. The first of RT-PCR kits came through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and later more were acquired from China. In order to address the supply shortage Cuba has also started domestically producing specialized gowns, aprons, masks, goggles and face shields, to facilitate protection for people working in health services.
Much of Cuba’s success in responding to COVID-19 has been as a result of primary healthcare system in the country. Cuba has a history of generating innovations in medical science and research. In 1985,it prepared the first and only vaccine against meningitis B. Scientists of the country have also developed new treatments for hepatitis B, diabetic foot, vitiligo and psoriasis. A lifesaving lung cancer vaccine was developed by Cuba that was also imported by the US. Cuba was also the first country to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child, an achievement recognized by World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015.
It is reported that Cuban biotechnology has developed drugs that have already been effective in fighting the coronavirus in China and other countries. According to Director of Epidemiology at Cuba’s Ministry of Health, Francisco Durán, drugs are in development stage “to improve innate immunity”. These include Interferon Alpha 2B, created in the 1980s in collaboration with scientists in Helsinki to combat a dengue outbreak. It is being produced presently by a joint venture with a Chinese company. New varieties of Interferon are being developed institutes of the Scientific Pole to improve its effectiveness against Covid-19.Cuban institutes are also producing another domestically manufactured drug, CIGB 258, which was already under development prior to the pandemic for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Duran stated, “These and other drugs, almost all manufactured and patented in Cuba, are components of the island’s anti-Covid-19 cocktail”. According to John Hopkins University, Cuba has registered a mortality rate of 4.2% compared to 6% in the US and 12% in Spain. Almost 87% patients have recovered from the COVID-19 virus, the highest recovery rate in South America. Cuban policymakers, however have been critical of the US embargo which poses a serious problem for Cuban biotechnology. It is difficult to import constituents of the drugs and has made joint-research difficult since it is based on cross border correspondence and exchange of scientific ideas.
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