Cuba during Corona: A Universal Human Centric Health System

January 29, 2022 0 By Yatharth

Harendra, Translated by Faaizah Ghazi

The world has been grappling with the Corona epidemic. Millions of people from developing as well as developed nations have succumbed to its ruthlessness. Even superpowers like the US and Europe have been vulnerable and helpless in the face of its attack. However, along with their helplessness and vulnerability, what has also come to the fore is the profit motive of multinational companies and governments of many countries. Like hawks, these profit-driven companies have been gorging on the millions of dead and dying. The vaccine for Corona was developed but a concession to the World Trade Organization patent law on right to intellectual property was not made. The vaccine would not be shared with the rest of the world. But even these superpowers have not been able to vaccinate the majority of their populations. European Union, Britain, and the US have been able to vaccinate only 60-70% of their respective populations, and work on vaccination for children is still underway.

India’s condition has not been hidden from anyone. Like a tsunami, the pandemic has swallowed multitudes of people. Millions of people have lost their lives but the government could only make loud proclamations and empty promises. We are still a thousand miles away from reaching the vaccination rate of a hundred percent. Moreover, health experts and doctors say that the vaccine is no panacea for the disease. According to them, after getting the shot, one’s immunity will increase and the probability of death due to Covid would decrease. But the question that arises here is that in a country where more than half of the female population is a victim of malnutrition, where 3.5% of children die even before reaching the age of 5, a country which is on the 101th number on the hunger index comprising of 118 countries, in such a country, will vaccination improve the fighting capacity of the public? Or would vaccination remain a mere technical solution? Can the government be blind that it cannot see a point as plain as this? And if they do see, then it is evident that people’s lives are being played with, that they are being made into morsels for big pharma multinational companies to gorge on. 

In a nutshell, we can say that developed imperialist powers like Europe and the US have failed to fight off the Covid epidemic. Their health systems have failed. And even in these grave times, the multinational companies of these countries have been looking for opportunities for profit-making and due to technological monopoly, have been looting developing countries. The vaccine has been transformed into a commodity. 

  1. An alternative to the profit-oriented health system

In contrast to these imperialist countries, there is Cuba which is tackling Corona by keeping humanity at the center. Cuba has proved to be an example of a human-centric health system by providing an alternative to the profit-driven imperialist system. This is the same Cuba on which the US has been imposing multiple restrictions since 1960, and because of which the country’s economy has been devastated. So much so that it is extremely difficult for Cuba to even procure raw materials for medicines. Despite this, the country has become an epitome in the health sphere.

The government of Cuba has been able to fully vaccinate 85% of its population and provide the first dose to another 7%. Moreover, children from the age of 2 to 18 have received both doses. Through its traditional techniques and methods, it has developed 5 indigenous vaccines out of which Abdala, Soberana 02, and Soberana Plus have been passed for public use. The other two, Soberana 02 and Mambisa are in clinical trial and in the process of being approved. These vaccines have been developed by using the traditional protein sub-unit technique. Creating vaccines using this technique is relatively simple and they can be stored in the refrigerator or at a particular temperature.

Cuba has open-heartedly shared these vaccines and their techniques with other countries and has proved that the imperialist guard over science and its knowledge is anti-human. Knowledge and technology have been created by the whole of humanity and therefore they are not solely the possessions of profit-driven imperialists. Cuba has sent its vaccines to countries like Venezuela, Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Mexico. Quite recently, Mexico has permitted the use of Abdala. Venezuela and Vietnam have started producing these vaccines and Syria has begun discussions on the same with Cuban authorities. Iran and Nigeria have also begun producing Soberana 2.

By sending doctors and teams of medics to other countries during Corona, Cuba has shown its spirit of internationalism towards the world. It had sent its teams of doctors to various countries at the very advent of Covid 19: to Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy in 2020, to Andorra, a small country between Spain and France, and later to countries in Africa such as Togo, South Africa, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Sao Tom, Guinea, Guinea Basu, and Kenya, etc. The biggest example among these is that of Crema, a city in the Italian region of Lombardy. The situation of Corona there had become uncontrollable and a team of 52 doctors was sent from Cuba. The people there say that Cuban doctors and “their humanity has overwhelmed us and won our hearts”. “A special kind of sensitivity and attention that explains their worldview.” For providing health services in a number of countries in the world, the Henry Reeve International Health Medical Brigade of Cuba was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Cuba has also worked on its principle policy of door-to-door treatment abroad, which has proved to be very effective.

  • The role of the Cuban Revolution

The Cuban revolution of 1959 has played a major role behind this current human-centric health system. Traversing a zig zag path, the revolution developed a health system that is quite unique and completely human-centric. It is important to have a look at the then situation to understand the contemporary one as well as learn from that process for our country.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, old societal structures were torn down to create new ones based on equality. Hunger, poverty, education, and honor were called the life of the revolution by its leaders: Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Cuba’s revolutionary government carried out the following actions as health measures: land reforms, new roads, improved farming practices, schools, literacy programs, good food, and the elimination of unemployment. According to Castro and Guevara, the revolution could only stay alive if it would fulfill these needs of the masses, or else it would die. Therefore, the question of health is closely linked to that of exploitation and oppression and cannot be underestimated. It has been the creation of a new society that has given birth to Cuba’s human-centric health system.

            After the 1959 revolution, it became mandatory for all students to be given classes for practical experiences and all were required to go to work in rural areas. The revolutionary government of Cuba created a nucleus of young and qualified doctors who took the charge of carrying the mountain-like responsibility of the health system on their shoulders.

  • Birth of Comprehensive General Medicine

Despite various limitations and lapses, the revolutionary government of Cuba gave birth to one of the most unique health systems in the world called the “family doctor-nurse program”. It is also known as “comprehensive general medicine”. Under this program, a team of doctors and nurses live among people in a small and specific geographical area. They then treat the patients in their homes by taking into account not just their physiology but their whole environment. These doctor-nurses teams keep evaluating the patients of their area and if any signs of disease are detected, they immediately begin treating and subsequently curing them. Under this program, every disease is treated keeping in mind the psycho-socio and biological conditions, and certain diseases are treated using different kinds of treatment practiced in different cultures. Methods like “green medicine” in which herbs are used, and which is popular among Afro-Cubans are also included. Internationalism and integration have been an integral part of Cuba’s health system since its birth.

Under the comprehensive general medicine program, the education of students pursuing medical studies has been diverted towards immediate problems and their courses include working in clinics, sanitation, and epidemics as well as clinical theory, sociology, and biology. Simultaneously, the revolutionary government of Cuba has also solved the issues of race and gender. Before the revolution, black Afro-Cubans were not admitted to medical colleges, nor were they given proper treatments in hospitals. Secondly, in Cuba, it is not only women who work as nurses as is the case all over the world but men as well. In fact, a considerable percentage of Cuban men work as nurses. Moreover, the Spanish equivalent of the word nurse is ‘enfermeros’ which is gender-neutral.

People’s organizations have played a great role in fulfilling this Himalayan objective, be they organizations of farmers-workers or those of women.

In conclusion, it can be said that the US and European imperialists imposed their neo-liberal policies on the whole world in the 1990s, with profit at the center. Because of these policies, the US, European countries, and all the poor and developing countries that signed these policies opened their health systems to domestic and foreign capitalists. They have deliberately allowed their government health infrastructure to be neglected and decay. Today, in the hour of a great humanitarian crisis, many countries are helpless, and their helplessness is being taken advantage of through exploitation for profits. On the other hand, there is Cuba, whose policies are centered on man, who is extending support to the whole world in this hour of calamity and is showing a new path. Cuba’s health system has once again proved that capitalism is incapable of solving human problems and that it needs to be replaced with a human-centric system. Cuba has shown that such a system is indeed not only possible but can also be successful. Only a new human-centric system can solve the issues of this world, otherwise everything will be ruined. There is a need to think and act today, for tomorrow will be too late.

[Author is a research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia.]