By María José Haro Sly
According to media reports, Cuba-developed medicine for the treatment of COVID-19 is being tested after it was sent to experts in China, Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, and others countries. One of the most promising medicines is Interferon Alfa 2B and Cuba is already working on a vaccine. Cuban recommended 21 other medicines for the treatment of the disease.
Although Cuba has suffered under a 60-year economic blockade from the US, the island has one of the best health systems for containment of COVID-19 in Latin America.
How is this small island, blocked economically by the US, doing so much in the global fight against the pandemic?
In the mid-20th century, the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a young medical student, who rode his motorcycle throughout Latin America, where he discovered the harsh reality of this beautiful continent.
His understanding of the people’s pain, the limits of their health systems, and the enormous distances between doctors and patients, and overcoming these became a crucial feature of the Socialist Cuban State.
In January of 1959, the young revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro and “Che” Guevara defeated the US-supported military regime and established the first socialist country in Latin America. Cuba is a small island just 180 kilometers from Florida. Since then Cuba has been a stone in the shoe of the US, which has considered the region its backyard since the US Monroe Doctrine was established almost 200 years ago.
Che’s thinking of replacing the biomedical paradigm with the socio-medical paradigm was a logical solution to the health needs of the population. This paradigm takes access to health to be a human right and works on the prevention and development of better immunology of patients.
Since its early days as a socialist country, medical diplomacy and solidarity have built the international image of the island. Cuban didn’t wait for its economic development and political consolidation before starting to offer medical to other countries.
Despite US actions to try to destabilize Cuba, a medical brigade and several tons of equipment and supplies were sent to Chile in the aftermath of the 1960 earthquake that left thousands of dead.
The official start of the Cuban International Medical Collaboration, consisting of permanent brigades is considered to be in 1963, when the first brigade was sent to Algeria.
Since then, Cuba has sent more than 50,000 workers to more than 100 countries. Cuba provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all the G8 countries combined. In the 1990s, Cuba created the ELAM Latin American School of Medicine, to build the healthcare capacity of many countries, mainly in the developing world.
Fidel Castro once said, “Cuban doctors and other health professionals and technicians constitute an exceptional force.
No country has something similar; like the internationalist soldiers on our island, they were trained in combat. Its missions abroad abide by rigorous ethical standards. Its services are provided free of charge or marketed according to the circumstances of the receiving country. They are not exportable.”
Nowadays, Cuban medical exports are key part of its economy, accounting for more than 80 percent of Cuba’s total exports.
In the 1980s, Fidel Castro created the Center of Genetic Engineer and Biotechnology (CIGB), saying at the time “the center is large, but I hope that the scientific results obtained will also be great.” In less than 5 months, Cuban researchers developed Interferon, marking the start of the development of national biotechnology. The drug was given to patients with dengue type 2, and in subsequent months used to combat an epidemic of hemorrhagic conjunctivitis.
Renowned CIGB scientist Herrera Martínez said Interferon Alfa 2B is one of the drugs that have received great attention in the treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19 and China and Spain have incorporated the drug into their national protocols and clinical guidelines for the care of COVID-19 patients. “Our joint venture in Changchun, Jilin, has provided more than 300,000 units of the product during the epidemic,” said Martinez. The Cuban drug has been given by injection to exposed medical personnel, while patients have inhaled it, Martinez said.
Interferon Alfa 2B is being used to prevent infections caused by AIDS, recurrent respiratory papillomatosis caused by the human papillomavirus, condylomata acuminata, and hepatitis types B and C, and is also effective against different types of cancer.
Twenty-one other products are being used in Cuba to fight COVID-19, including antivirals, antiarrhythmic, and antibiotics. The CIGB is working on a vaccine, in which virus-like particles with great capacity to stimulate the immune system are used.
Cuba has not only shared its knowledge with China, but also sent doctors to support numerous countries with their outbreak of COVID-19. It has sent medical brigades to Italy and deployed doctors to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada.
Cuba’s solidarity with the world during the pandemic has been the opposite of US President Donald Trump’s administration. A most glaring example is the billion-dollar offer to German scientists for the exclusive rights to a coronavirus vaccine to be used “only in the US.”
This crisis is redefining the role of the state in the protection of public health. Proof of this is the current nationalization of private hospitals in Spain. President Emmanuel Macron in France made a strong statement in favor of the French model of the welfare state, he said there’s a need to “question the development model in which our world has been engaged for decades … free health care, with no conditions of income, career or profession, our welfare state are not costs or burdens but precious goods. They are indispensable assets when fate strikes, which this pandemic reveals.”
–The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange item