Thursday, September 16 2021
  • Cuba plagued by shortages of medicines and other essentials
  • Cuban diaspora volunteers in Spain and elsewhere send aid
  • Cuba particularly lacks drugs to fight COVID infections

MADRID / HAVANA, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Marilys Colarte waits at Madrid airport to take her precious cargo to Cuba, where life-saving drugs are running out.

Colarte is part of a growing international network of Cuban diaspora volunteers who have transported tons of aid to the Caribbean island in recent months.

“Everyone contributed a little of themselves, a little of their love,” said Colarte, 52, before boarding the plane to Havana with 100 kilograms of supplies. “I am so happy to bring medicine to my people who really need it.”

Built under the late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, Cuba’s universal public health system is one of the most valuable achievements of its revolution, but a deep economic crisis has resulted in shortages of drugs and other basic commodities.

The government largely blames the US sanctions while its critics blame the inefficient state economy. Over the past month, shortages, along with power outages and lack of civil liberties, have sparked rare mass protests in the streets. Read more

One of the measures taken by the Cuban government in response to the unrest was to allow travelers to bring medicine, food and sanitary items without paying import duties. Within two weeks of the move, travelers brought 112 tons of the goods through Havana International Airport, Cuban customs said. Read more

Volunteers welcomed the move, but said its impact was limited given the few flights to Cuba after the government restricted them due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The largest diaspora community is in Florida, but we’ve gone from 50 flights a week from the United States to Cuba to three,” said Enrique Guzman Karell, Florida-based volunteer.

Those flights were booked until next year, he said, meaning the volunteers had to go through Madrid, from where there were more flights – an “absurd and very expensive trip for deliver humanitarian aid “.


In a church in Madrid, boxes piled up as volunteers sorted shipments donated by hospitals, pharmacies and individuals to various Cuban provinces.

Marilys Colarte queues to check in two carts full of medical supplies in Cuba at Adolfo Suarez Barajas Airport in Madrid on August 4, 2021. Photo taken on August 4, 2021. REUTERS / Juan Medina

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“People send drug requests via online messaging, saying ‘I have a relative who needs this or that’ and they send us the prescription,” said Massiel Rubio Hernandez, 37, editor. and organizer of Ayuda Humanitaria, based in Madrid. Cubana (Cuban Humanitarian Help), one of the first organizations to coordinate relief.

Over the past three weeks, the organization has sent a ton of medicine and other aids which are then distributed by other volunteers.

“We mainly send antibiotics and drugs that fight COVID-19 because there is nothing there at the moment,” said Hilda Landrove, a Cuban student who is part of another group of volunteers. based in Mexico City.

Cuba is currently suffering from one of the worst COVID-19 epidemics in the world, with cases confirmed in the past week ten times the global average. Read more

“Doctors prescribed azithromycin for my grandmother but it is not available in state pharmacies,” said a Havana resident who declined to be named for fear of reprisal.

He said he couldn’t afford the current black market prices he found online – of 1,200 pesos (about $ 50) per antibiotic treatment – on his monthly salary of 3,200 pesos.

“I cannot let her die because of this shortage,” he said.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Cubans had made a habit of queuing outside state pharmacies before dawn to be on the front line when scarce drug supplies arrived.

Some swap drugs on social media or use herbal remedies instead, as preventable diseases like scabies spread due to lack of proper treatment.

Volunteers like Guzman Karell are calling on Cuba to allow more flights, especially from the United States, as they say the US government should once again allow flights to cities outside Havana.

“It’s a drop in the ocean, given the chronic shortages,” said Guzman Karell, “but at least it’s something.”

Additional reporting by Graham Keeley in Barcelona and Juan Medina in Madrid Writing by Graham Keeley Editing by Nathan Allen and Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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