CubaBrief: Castro regime’s homeopathic response to COVID-19; Why Cuba travel needs to be frozen as a health measure; How’re elderly faring in Cuba during the pandemic & what can be done to help

The Castro regime has a history of under- reporting outbreaks of dengue, cholera, and zika in Cuba that has impacted not just Cubans, but visitors to the island. All indications are that this history may explain why South Florida is a coronavirus hot spot. According to NBC Miami 6 on April 7, 2020, “Miami-Dade continued to be Florida’s hardest-hit county, with 5,126 cases, about 36 percent of the state’s total. Broward County was next with 2,230, followed by Palm Beach with 1,159. Monroe County had 49 cases.”

Jason Poblete writing in National Review on April 6, 2020 wrote about the Castro regime’s recklessness in dealing with past outbreaks and reported that on “March 11, the Global Liberty Alliance sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging the administration to consider reassessing travel warnings and protocols for travel to and from Cuba. Several Florida policymakers, including Governor Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos A. Giménez, and commissioner Esteban Bovo, followed suit. They urge that flights to and from the island be temporarily suspended.”  These are not just flights between Havana and Miami, but also flights “to San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Newark, New York, and Los Angeles.”

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On April 7, 2020, Former Center for a Free Cuba Executive Director Frank Calzon wrote in Havana Times how COVID-19 poses a threat to Cuba’s elderly population observing that “the pandemic underscores the serious limitations of Cuba’s care for the elderly, a cohort greatly impacted by the virus around the world. The island’s facilities are inadequate, and according to Cuba’s 2018 Statistical Yearbook their average monthly pension is equivalent to $13 a month and most caregivers are unpaid women. There are serious shortages of soap, detergent and disinfectant. … Cuba has the oldest population in the region -20% of the population is 60 and older; by 2025, it will be 25%- and will increase at one of the highest rates in the world. Raul Castro, 89, has not announced any measures to help the elderly, now threatened by the growing spread of the virus.”

In mid-March with the regime still declaring Cuba a tourist destination during the pandemic, refusing to close schools, and take other precautions, “Cubans began to take steps on their own against the epidemic, having learned about it in the internet,” reported Calzon, adding that ” teachers, ignoring the regime’s orders, closed schools and sent the kids home. The Church, aware of the danger presented by public gatherings, suspended religious services. Cuba’s beleaguered independent journalists raised the alarm while the official media insisted that the country was prepared for the epidemic, that tourists were welcomed while the pandemic ran its course elsewhere. Officials said that Cuba’s sun was “a good antidote.”

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Calzon also wrote on March 16, 2020 in The Sun Sentinel that “in the past, the Cuban government authorities denied for many months that there were HIV/AIDs cases, and when a Cuban doctor told foreign journalists about a dengue outbreak he was sent to prison. Be that as it may, HavanaTour told foreigners last week that they may come and stay on the island, that Cuba is ready to confront the epidemic, and that the sun is an antidote for the virus.” The former CFC executive director also called for the suspension of all flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

There has been coverage on China and Russia’s disinformation campaigns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but not much on the Castro regime’s disinformation campaigns over the past month. Communist China echoed initial Russian disinformation that the virus was the product of the U.S. military, but also claimed that the virus originated in Italy. Beijing also engaged in disinformation campaigns against Taiwan, spreading false rumors on the severity of the outbreak.  The Castro regime falsely claimed throughout February and March that Cuba was a safe harbour with effective treatments for coronavirus for visiting tourists. On March 19, 2020 the official media reported, “authorities of the Cuban ministry of tourism (MINTUR) submitted the prevention and control plan to tackle COVID-19, and stated that the country is ready to receive those customers who decide to come to the island of their own free will. Barbara Cruz, marketing director of MINTUR, said at a press conference that Cuba has a strong health system and trained workers, including the self-employed ones.”

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On March 11, 2020, Nicolas Maduro was promoting Cuba’s “interferon” as a cure that saved “around 3,500 lives in China” declaring Cuba in the vanguard, Caribbean National Weekly called it the antidote for COVID-19, and Newsweek was calling it a “wonder drug.” The reality is far more humble. Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant (IFNrec) was jointly developed with China, but they did not pioneer the discovery of interferon. Interferon research, not surprisingly, was pioneered in Switzerland in the 1950s

Finally, interferon is not a cure but a possible treatment, with risky side effects that in the late stages of the illness can cause more harm than good. The communist regimes in Cuba and in China are profiting off of the desperation of people around the world caught up in a pandemic that spread out of control because Beijing covered it up for weeks. Sadly, many continue to fall for their propaganda.  

In Cuba, Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health is peddling a  homeopathic remedy to the elderly and others with pre-existing conditions to “prevent” the spread of the disease.  WebMD gives the following advice with regards to homeopathy: “Don’t use homeopathic medicine for life-threatening illnesses, like asthmacancer, and heart disease, or in emergencies.”

Britain’s National Health Service offered a more candid analysis of the effectiveness of homeopathy: “Homeopathy is a ‘treatment’ based on the use of highly diluted substances, which practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself. A 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy said that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos (dummy treatments). The review also said that the principles on which homeopathy is based are ‘scientifically implausible’.”

Meanwhile the Castro regime has also been receiving positive press for expanding its trafficking in doctors program, that is a chief source of income for the dictatorship, but little is said about a Cuban doctor who arrived in Andorra and tested positive for coronavirus or of the dark side of this program that was reported last year in The New York Times, revealing that non-doctors and non-nurses were passing as healthcare workers, and that treatment was conditioned on political considerations.

The sad reality is that Cuba had a decent healthcare system prior to the Castro regime that achieved greater results both in research and healthcare for the entire country than post-1959. Today disinformation and government propaganda seek to erase that history while wildly exaggerating the quality of the existing system, and endangering lives both inside and outside of Cuba.

The Miami Herald, April 7, 2020

Cuba promotes homeopathy as effective “weapon” against the coronavirus
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

As scientists around the world speed up clinical trials to find a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, the Cuban government will begin distributing a homeopathic remedy to the elderly and other vulnerable people to “prevent” the spread of the disease, a top health official said.

Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, said in a press conference on Sunday that “sublingual drops” of the compound PrevengHo-Vir “prevent different diseases such as influenza, the common cold, dengue, and emerging viral infections such as this one.”

On Monday, Durán tried to correct his statements and said that the product “does not prevent contagion” but rather “increases resistance, the body’s defenses against a certain virus.”

Several state media outlets reported that PrevengHo-Vir is already being used in various Cuban provinces to treat the elderly and other groups vulnerable to the coronavirus. There is no internet record of PrevengHo-Vir, other than press reports about the announcement of its distribution in Cuba.

CECMED, the Cuban drug regulatory authority, said Monday it has approved the product, taking into account “the epidemiological situation at the national and international level caused by COVID-19.”

In the statement, CECMED said it “evaluated and approved” the PrevengHo-Vir, manufactured by a Cuban laboratory belonging to the biotech company BioCubaFarma, “as an alternative for the prevention of influenza, flu, dengue, and emerging viral infections.”

CECMED said that similar products to “prevent” dengue and cholera are already being used in Cuba and cited a 2009 World Health Organization resolution, presented by China, that recognizes homeopathy as a component of traditional medicine.

Other state media outlets have echoed the message that homeopathy is safe and effective.

In an interview with Juventud Rebelde daily newspaper, Dr. Fernando José Estévez Cabrera said that homeopathy was “an effective preventive weapon” against COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Homeopathy became popular in Cuba in the 1990s, when the shortage of medicines during a deep economic crisis led health authorities to experiment with traditional medicine.

But there is no scientific evidence to support homeopathy, whose products use very diluted solutions of natural compounds and are based on controversial principles such as “like cures like.”

The FDA has not approved any homeopathic compound for any medical use, and the National Institutes of Health caution that “there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific health condition.”

Like many governments in the world, Cuban leaders are testing alternatives to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed 11 people and sickened 396 as of Tuesday. Fearing the economic backlash, the Cuban authorities waited until March 20 to prohibit the entry of tourists and until March 23 to close schools. Yet it was one of the first in asking the population to wear masks to protect themselves.

The announcement about the homeopathic remedy, however, has generated discontent within the Cuban medical community.

“Are these people just ignorant and irresponsible, suggesting meaningless measures, selling agitated water?” asked Dr. Luis Carlos Silva on the website of the local newspaper Venceremos.

Silva said that portraying the use of the product as a preventive measure was “irresponsible” because “people without enough knowledge might believe they are protected.”

Silva, a professor at the University of Medical Sciences in Havana who works with several universities and international health organizations, declined to comment further.

This is not the first time that experts and officials refer to the effects of Cuban pharmaceutical products without providing scientific evidence. In particular, statements about Cuba’s Interferon Alpha 2B have raised false expectations about a “miracle” cure for fighting the coronavirus.

“Interferon is a medicine that you have to fight the viral infection, and it can be effective, as it is happening in China,” Dr. Luis Herrera told Telesur, a television channel controlled by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. “Interferon serves to control and subsequently make the virus disappear” from the body, said Herrera, one of the creators of the Cuban version of the medication.

Cuban state media has also spread the idea that the drug is effective against the coronavirus.

“Faced with the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban pharmaceutical industry redoubles its efforts aimed at guaranteeing the production of drugs with proven efficacy against the disease, as is the case of Recombinant Human Interferon Alpha 2B,” said a report in the Cuban official newspaper Granma.

But there is no conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of this drug for the treatment of COVID-19, an issue that is currently under investigation in China, where it has been used for that purpose since the start of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Several companies produce this type of interferon, which is used to treat some types of cancer, hepatiti, and AIDS. Cuba developed its own version in the 1980s, which is now produced on the island by one of BioCubaPharma’s laboratories and in China.

Granma reported in late March that nearly 45 countries had asked to buy the drug from Cuba.

The severity of the pandemic has prompted the government to offer frequent updates on the number of cases and other statistics. Still, beyond the interferon, it has said little about a list of 22 drugs that are in use to treat patients with the virus or about the availability of ventilators, a number one issue in the United States.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article241803371.html  

Havana Times, April 7, 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Cuba’s Elderly and Havana’s Response

By Frank Calzon

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government relented under the pressure of Cubans and closed its borders. Thousands of foreigners have left, but unfortunately the number of infected individuals and deaths will reflect the authorities’ delay in canceling flights.

The pandemic underscores the serious limitations of Cuba’s care for the elderly, a cohort greatly impacted by the virus around the world. The island’s facilities are inadequate, and according to Cuba’s 2018 Statistical Yearbook their average monthly pension is equivalent to $13 a month and most caregivers are unpaid women. There are serious shortages of soap, detergent and disinfectant.

Many young Cubans dream about leaving the island. Their departure partly explains why Cuba has the oldest population in the region -20% of the population is 60 and older; by 2025, it will be 25%- and will increase at one of the highest rates in the world. Raul Castro, 89, has not announced any measures to help the elderly, now threatened by the growing spread of the virus.

President Miguel Diaz Canel has yet to ask help from important sectors of Cuba’s society; and in the absence of official guidelines, Cubans began to take steps on their own against the epidemic, having learned about it in the internet.

Teachers, ignoring the regime’s orders, closed schools and sent the kids home. The Church, aware of the danger presented by public gatherings, suspended religious services. Cuba’s beleaguered independent journalists raised the alarm while the official media insisted that the country was prepared for the epidemic, that tourists were welcomed while the pandemic ran its course elsewhere. Officials said that Cuba’s sun was “a good antidote.”

The elderly, unlike their US counterparts, are at the bottom of the economic ladder; and if you are old and Black your situation is worse.  Some old folks scratch a meager living selling single cigarettes, old newspapers that are used as toilet paper, and toasted peanuts. Some search the piles of uncollected garbage for anything of value they can barter for food. Given their age, illnesses and inadequate nutrition, many will not survive.

Some churches sponsor soup kitchens, offering soup made with chicken bouillon donated by Cubans living abroad, and whatever rice or vegetables they may find.

The United States offered to help Iran and North Korea deal with the crisis, but they rejected the offer, as Havana has done in the past. The government has now closed its airports, but until a few days ago it was collecting import duties, claiming that the humanitarian assistance was a cover for profit making.

The authorities prohibit the distribution of aid by private citizens or Cuban Americans visiting their families; and the government retains a large percentage of aid sent to the Church. During other emergencies foreign donations delivered to hospitals were collected later and sent to army units, some resurfaced in the government’s hard currency stores.

There is little transparency and lots of corruption and waste. The Cuban people would benefit from international aid if the donors could distribute it to the needy themselves.

Despite the government’s echoing Chinese disinformation, Cubans realize the United States is not at fault and that the magnitude of the tragedy across the Florida Straits is due to a large extent on the regime’s instance to protect its tourist dollars.

*Frank Calzon is a Cuban American social scientist.

https://havanatimes.org/opinion/the-coronavirus-pandemic-cubas-elderly-and-havanas-response/

National Review, April 6, 2020

Freeze Travel to and from Cuba

By Jason I. Poblete

April 6, 2020 3:05 PM

There are reasons to think that the coronavirus there is rampant. The Communist regime has a record of downplaying its public-health crises.

The actions of China’s Communist leaders concerning the coronavirus pandemic have, yet again, made abundantly clear that totalitarian regimes do not behave like responsible nations. Rather than share information promptly to avert a global health emergency, the “revolution,” or regime, puts itself before all else, regardless of how many human beings are infected or die.

Only when the ghastly reality of the Wuhan coronavirus could no longer be contained did Beijing’s leadership stop some of the censorship, shifting to propaganda, lies, and baseless attacks to deflect responsibility for the crisis. The Iranian regime has followed a similar pattern. So will Communist Cuba, as history has shown that it cannot be relied on for accurate and complete health data on pandemics or other urgent global health challenges.

Unlike China or Iran, however, Cuba is just a 45-minute flight away from the U.S. mainland. To safeguard the American people, it was essential for the U.S. to suspend all travel to and from Cuba. It appears from a tweet Thursday by the U.S. mission in Havana that the administration has implemented such a measure. It should also consider blocking entry to the U.S. for all foreign travelers who have visited the island within the previous 120 days. This suggested timeframe is based on estimates of the spread of the novel coronavirus and on statutory limitations concerning access to American ports by vessels that have been in Cuba. Once the health crisis subsides, the U.S. can reassess travel protocols based on verifiable measures, not Cuban-government rhetoric.

Beyond the propaganda, Havana’s leaders have a long track record of hiding or manipulating information — in some instances, such as infant health and mortality, using extreme measures to create a facade of its alleged excellence in health care. The same is true for its management of virus outbreaks that should concern every American — especially those who remain on the island, including several unlawfully imprisoned by the regime.

In 2013, after decades of the regime’s claiming that there were no cases of cholera on the island, the Pan American Health Organization was quoted as confirming cholera cases among travelers to the island. News reports further cited anecdotal evidence from Cuban health workers and residents concerning outbreaks in various provinces. In 2016, when the World Health Organization announced a rare “public health emergency of international concern” over the Zika-virus outbreak in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba refused to cooperate with international organizations. Complete data on the Zika outbreak never materialized.

A 2019 analysis by close to 40 specialists and researchers from five countries studied Zika-infected travelers returning to the United States or Europe in 2017 or 2018 and found that 98 percent had visited Cuba, which did not report any cases to global health officials when the island’s outbreak peaked. The experts estimated that Cuba had over 5,700 unreported Zika cases. During the summer of 2019, the regime tried to cover up the spread and scope of the dengue outbreak.

Whether the outbreaks are of cholera or of infectious diseases resulting from Zika, dengue, or other pathogens, Communist Cuba’s lack of transparency, crumbling health-care system, lack of basic supplies such as soap, and general police-state mismanagement have impacted the U.S. mainland, especially South Florida. The U.S. must seek to prevent it from happening again, this time with the coronavirus.

There are also concerns about Cuba’s travel-security infrastructure. In the U.S., these have been raised by congressional homeland-security and national-security committees and are relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic. What steps are being taken to sanitize equipment and facilities, such as José Martí International Airport, and the Port of Mariel in Havana, where a coronavirus-infested cruise liner was allowed to dock this week?

On March 11, the Global Liberty Alliance sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging the administration to consider reassessing travel warnings and protocols for travel to and from Cuba. Several Florida policymakers, including Governor Ron DeSantis, Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos A. Giménez, and commissioner Esteban Bovo, followed suit. They urge that flights to and from the island be temporarily suspended.

Every year thousands of travelers come and go between Cuba and Miami International Airport. They also travel to San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Newark, New York, and Los Angeles. Any foreign traveler who does not reside in the U.S. and who has visited Cuba in the past three months should be prevented from U.S. entry until the crisis subsides.

For months, Cuba has had a shortage of soap, laundry detergent, and other basic hygiene products. After finally admitting the existence of coronavirus cases, the Communist leadership urged the Cuban people to make their own masks out of any spare material they may have available as they crowd in lines waiting for their food rations.

The United States, working with the private sector and the Cuban diaspora, could prepare supplies in South Florida and at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo and deliver them to the people of Cuba. Cuba’s Communist leaders will likely reject it, as Iran’s leadership did, but the Cuban people need to know the gesture was made.

Meanwhile, at least until American medical experts and policymakers have a better forecast of the course of the pandemic in the United States, Cuba should be off limits to all travelers seeking entry into the U.S. Failure to do so would be like playing a game of Russian roulette with Communist Cuba, a Kremlin client state, as the welfare of the American people is at stake.

Jason I. Poblete — Jason Poblete is a national security and international-law attorney in Washington, D.C., and chief counsel for the Global Liberty Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the rule of law and the defense of fundamental rights.

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/04/freeze-travel-to-and-from-cuba/

The News Scroll 01 April 2020 

Cuban health worker tests positive in Andorra: ministry

Andorra, Apr 1 (AFP) A member of the 39-strong team of Cuban doctors and nurses in Andorra to help fight the coronavirus has tested positive for the virus, the health ministry revealed Wednesday.

He has been placed in isolation while officials decide how to protect against possible further contamination from the rest of the Cuban team to avoid losing their medical skills completely.

The man arrived Monday morning with the Cuban team of 12 doctors and 27 nurses after Andorra had asked Havana for support.

Around 60 of the principality”s doctors are already under quarantine while being checked to see if they are infected, said Health Minister Joan Martinez Benazet.

The whole Cuban delegation was screened for the virus on their arrival, before undergoing initial training on Tuesday.

Havana has long sent Cuba”s doctors to help other countries: payment for their services is one of the engines of its economy, which has suffered almost six decades of crippling US sanctions.

Andorra is the European second country, after Italy, to receive their help.

Andorra, a landlocked principality between Spain and France with a population of 77,000, counted 12 dead on Tuesday from the virus. (AFP) IND

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/cuban-healthworker-tests-positive-in-andorra-ministry/1787831