CubaBrief: Reality check on Cuban healthcare. Cuban Muslim woman denied healthcare due to religious association. Remembering Oswaldo Payá on his birthday

On December 17, 2002 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá received the Sakharov prize and addressed the members of parliament  on the dangerous belief that justice can be achieved while abandoning human rights: “We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people.” 

Having lived his entire life in Cuba, Mr. Payá understood the importance of human rights and how their absence negatively impacts all aspects of life. Oswaldo’s family and friends believed that he was murdered, along with Harold Cepero Escalante, on July 22, 2012. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was born 69 years ago on February 29, 1952 but did not live past his 60th birthday. The Center is sharing on its website the petition drafted by his brother, Carlos, calling for an international investigation. This CubaBrief seeks to begin to highlight how the above observation by Oswaldo Payá impacts in areas of economic and social justice.

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Nowhere is this truer than in the area of healthcare in Cuba. Healthcare is not a right in Cuba, despite official claims, but a government prop to justify its dictatorial rule, and to punish those that do not follow the dictates of the dictatorship. It is also about image, international projection, and little about the well being of the patient. The Castro regime is masterful at propaganda, and the big lie, but a disaster in most other areas.

The ongoing case of Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nuñez, age 36, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease serves as an example. She is Cuban and Muslim.  According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “the Cuban government has denied a Muslim woman the right to seek potentially lifesaving treatment abroad, in a move that she believes is linked to her affiliation to an unregistered religious association.”

Her religious community assisted her in securing free medical treatment at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, United States, which would cover the costs of treatment unavailable in Cuba.  This treatment would significantly improve her quality of life, and perhaps save her life.  She “was first targeted by the Cuban authorities in 2015 after leaving the Islamic League of Cuba, the only officially registered Muslim association, for the unregistered Cuban Association for the Dissemination of Islam (CADI). Soon after, Ms Olivera Nuñez was sentenced to five years of restricted liberty,” reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

In Havana it is not only freedom of religion that is under assault, but also the right to healthcare when you exercise your religious liberty as is seen in the plight of Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nuñez.

Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nuñez, denied access to life saving care

Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nuñez, denied access to life saving care

CSW leaves out another consideration for Havana. The negative optics for the Cuban government, that claims to be a healthcare superpower but cannot treat a Cuban national. Worse yet that her religious group was able to obtain treatment for her in Miami, Florida. 

She may die because the Cuban government blocked her treatment as punishment. Last year, Liset Herrera, a Cuban mother denounced the death of Iker, her 12 year old son claiming medical negligence. What recourse does she have in Cuba to protest his death and demand redress?

The regime is in the midst of a propaganda campaign to promote its healthcare system as a model to emulate, and its medical doctors for the Nobel Peace Prize. The usual networks are at work to spread this false narrative. There is plenty of room to criticize the U.S. healthcare system, but why do so many try to contrast it with the Cuban?  Why is it that Costa Rica and Canada’s healthcare systems rate higher than the U.S. on international indices, but are not mentioned positively as often as Cuba’s despite the island nation’s health care system rating lower than the United States?

We have examined individual cases, but what are the implications for public health?

Diario de Cuba reported on February 17, 2021 that there is an “acute lack of medicines is allowing controllable diseases to spread throughout Cuba, creating unbearable situations for many families. Such is the case with scabies, which Cubans constantly complain about on social media and that is on its way to becoming widespread in Mayarí, Holguín.” The regime is focusing its media campaign on COVID-19, and their efforts to produce vaccines at home, in collaboration with their Russian, Chinese, and Iranian allies. The scabies epidemic, and others, are not covered. This is not new.

In 1997 when dengue broke out in Cuba, the regime tried to cover it up. When a doctor spoke out, he was locked up, sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza as a prisoner of conscience, and he was released from prison in 1998 under condition he leave Cuba. The dictatorship eventually recognized that there had been a dengue epidemic.

A 2012 cholera outbreak once again demonstrated how the Cuban public health system operates. News of the outbreak in Manzanillo, in the east of the island, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to reporting by the outlawed independent press in the island. Official media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. BBC News reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship stated that it had it under control. Independent journalist Calixto Martínez was arrested on September 16, 2012 for reporting on the Cholera outbreak, and declared an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Cholera outbreaks would continue on the island.

The Castro regime succeeded in covering up the 2017 zika outbreak, but eventually in 2019, due to sick foreign tourists diagnosed with the disease, it was traced back to Cuba. What will we learn about the real Cuban response to COVID-19 on its territory when the dust clears?

Havana bills itself as a medical superpower exporting Cuban doctors around the world for profit, in an arrangement that has been identified as human trafficking by some, but there is an even more sinister side.

Beyond profiting off the doctors, the Castro regime uses healthcare to leverage support and patient treatment is conditioned on their obedience to advancing Havana’s objectives. The New York Times reported that Cuban doctors in Venezuela were ordered to deny or ration care to advance Nicolas Maduro’s election prospects in the March 17, 2019 article, “It Is Unspeakable’: How Maduro Used Cuban Doctors to Coerce Venezuela Voters.”

Conditions for Cuban doctors are so bad that they are trying to flee to the United States, and are risking their lives on the U.S.-Mexico border. There had been an asylum program for Cuban doctors, but the Obama Administration ended it in January 2017, a concession in the White House’s detente with Havana. They are still coming, and some are now undocumented in the United States.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, February 25, 2021

Government denies Muslim woman opportunity to seek medical treatment for life-threatening conditions

25 Feb 2021

Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nunez

Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nunez

The Cuban government has denied a Muslim woman the right to seek potentially lifesaving treatment abroad, in a move that she believes is linked to her affiliation to an unregistered religious association. Yusdeylin Mercedes Olivera Nuñez, 36, suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Ms Olivera Nuñez’s religious community has assisted her in securing free medical treatment at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, United States, which would cover the costs of treatment unavailable in Cuba that would significantly improve her quality of life. Ms Olivera Nuñez believes the government’s actions are due to her affiliation with an unregistered religious association.

Ms Olivera Nuñez was first targeted by the Cuban authorities in 2015 after leaving the Islamic League of Cuba, the only officially registered Muslim association, for the unregistered Cuban Association for the Dissemination of Islam (CADI). Soon after, Ms Olivera Nuñez was sentenced to five years of restricted liberty. According to her lawyers, the charges were fabricated in retaliation for joining CADI.

On 10 February 2021, the Ministry of Public Health failed to submit Ms Olivera Nuñez’s medical history to the Artemisa Provincial Tribunal, effectively blocking the procedure to waive her remaining sentence, which would then allow her to seek a humanitarian visa to travel to the US for treatment. This is the eighth time that the Ministry of Public Health has failed to share Ms Olivera Nuñez’s medical records with the Artemisa authorities.

The Cuban authorities also requisitioned an electric wheelchair from Ms Olivera Nuñez in June 2019, which was donated to her from a Muslim contact from Canada.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: “Time is running out for Yusdeylin, who is bedridden and currently has pneumonia. She lives with her 82-year-old grandmother who is in poor health as well. Yusdeylin is unable to receive medical attention in Cuba yet is being denied the opportunity to seek treatment outside the country for life threatening medical conditions. Her case is a clear example of the potentially deadly consequences of the Cuban government’s discriminatory policies against members of unregistered religious groups. We call on the Cuban government to clear her to travel immediately.”

Note to editors:

1.       All religious groups in Cuba must be legally registered. Currently, religious groups and associations come under the oversight of the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which operates out of the Ministry of Justice but is a part of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

https://www.csw.org.uk/2021/02/25/press/5009/article.htm

NewsNation Now, February 25, 2021

On the US-Mexico border as Cuban doctors seeking asylum treat immigrants

By: Brian Entin Posted: Feb 25, 2021 / 07:20 AM EST

JUAREZ, Mexico (NewsNation Now) — Thousands of asylum-seekers are waiting in border cities like Juarez, Mexico hoping to get a chance to cross the border.

In Juarez, the Hotel Flamingo has been converted into a shelter for migrants with symptoms of COVID-19 and migrants who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Leydy Gonzales is an asylum-seeker from Cuba and volunteers at the shelter with sick migrants. She says the Cuban government was trying to force her to go to Venezuela to practice medicine, so she fled to Mexico.

“When we arrived, we arrived on the Southern border of Mexico, and then the Federal Police stopped us, and they asked us for $1,000 to let us go through and not deliver us to immigration,” Dr. Gonzales said.

Dr. Gonzales says she has been waiting to enter the United States for a year and eight months.

She provides medical care to migrants like a woman named Tatiana, who has a newborn and fled El Salvador. She is hoping to claim asylum and enter El Paso with her 5-day-old baby.

“It was a really bad situation back there. Very dangerous. It was very difficult. We have had a hard time getting all the way here. We have been through ugly stuff. Thank God we are here now,” Tatiana said.

Most of the families in the shelter are from Central America and countries like Honduras and Guatemala.

The families downstairs at the hotel have symptoms of COVID-19. Upstairs is where the immigrants who have tested positive are recovering.

Cuban physician Adrian Reyes Gamez, who has been seeking asylum in the United States since 2019, takes care of the sickest people.

“We are giving them the attention and bringing food to their doorstep, checking on their temperature, checking their oxygen levels, making sure they take their medicine,” Dr. Gamez said.

Dr. Gamez, and the others here, say they have newfound hope since the Biden administration announced they would let about 25,000 asylum-seekers wait in the U.S. while their cases are processed.

“I registered on the web page and right now I am waiting for the confirmation call,” Dr. Gamez said.

Only a small amount of asylum-seekers have been let into the country to wait for their court process to play out. The pandemic has delayed court hearings.

Esther Valdes, a principal attorney who represents immigrants before immigration court, joined NewsNation to discuss the rise of illegal border crossings and new reform from the Biden administration.

https://www.wwlp.com/news/on-the-us-mexico-border-as-cuban-doctors-seeking-asylum-treat-immigrants/

Diario de Cuba, February 17, 2021

‘We All Have Scabies Here’

Some Cubans already have sores on their skin from going without treatment: “People are really suffering,” says a woman from Holguin with a sick baby.

Osmel Ramírez Álvarez

Holguín 17 Feb 2021

The torso of a woman and the hand of a man suffering from scabies. Diario de Cuba

The torso of a woman and the hand of a man suffering from scabies. Diario de Cuba

The acute lack of medicines is allowing controllable diseases to spread throughout Cuba, creating unbearable situations for many families. Such is the case with scabies, which Cubans constantly complain about on social media and that is on its way to becoming widespread in Mayarí, Holguín.

“We’ve all had it in my house for two months,” says Luis Torres, a retiree from the nickel industry. “This is unbearable, no one can sleep at night, and we don’t know what to do. They don’t sell medicines for it, and the herbs help, but don’t completely cure it. Doctors used to tell you not to self-medicate, and now they tell you ‘go see what medicine you can get out there'”.

Yenny’s case is worse, as one of her sick children is still nursing: “I’d never suffered like this, not even in the  Special Period, because in the 90s there were problems with medications, but not like now.”

“My heart breaks for my two daughters, with their beautiful skin, and now they’re full of sores, and itching, day or night, going crazy itching, just like us parents. And my baby too, full of rashes and crying all the time. I don’t know what to give him because I’m afraid of hurting him by improvising my own medicines. This is terrible,” Yenny complains.

“There had never been a lack of Permethrin and Lindane like this. Or of antibiotics. Now there is nothing, there are no medications, and people are really suffering, from headaches, itching, high blood pressure, everything. We don’t even have an antihistamine to alleviate the allergy caused by this scabies,” she adds.

“The sores become infected, and we have no way to cure them. All I got was crystal violet, and we all look like smurfs, full of blue spots. Except for the baby, of course. Luckily, he doesn’t have sores yet.”

Idalia Ramírez’s children have not been to school since January, also due to scabies. She explained: “there are several in each classroom that are missing for the same reason. Right now it would be better to send those who don’t have it home, as there are more people with scabies than without. This can’t be cured without medication, and one gives it to other people. And when someone gets it at home, everyone gets it, regardless of your hygiene. It spreads anyway”.

“My daughter is in preschool and I’m not really concerned about her being absent, but my boy is in secondary school and he might miss out on the year, because he’s had scabies for two months and they won’t take him at school like that. And it’s been bad, with many sores all over his body, mainly on his hands and penis. It’s horrible and exasperating to see your children sick, and not be able to do anything because there are no medications. I went to the hospital and there’s nothing to cure it either. It’s a tragedy,” this mother complained.

Scabies is caused by the parasite Sarcoptes scabiei, a microscopic mite that tends to cause itching by secreting an allergenic toxin as it penetrates the skin and reproduces. In some people it only triggers this insufferable discomfort, but in others scabies can be accompanied by microbe-induced lesions such as pyodermatitis and lymphangitis.

With the right medications, such as Permethrin, Lindane, and Benzyl Benzoate, it can be cured with relative ease. Otherwise one can suffer scabies for very long periods. In the case of associated skin infections produced by staphylococci and streptococci, it calls for treatment with antibiotics, or more severe complications can ensue.

But there are dire shortages of all these medicines (not sporadic, as during other times) in Cuba, and there is no solution is in sight, in terms of supplies. The government is practically avoiding the subject altogether. It seems to only be paying attention to the status of vaccines against Covid-19, and neglecting other diseases that can be equally or more dangerous.

On the Mesa Redonda television program on Wednesday, February 10, Marino Murillo (official spokesman for the Tarea Ordenamiento measures) announced a reduction in the prices of medications whose prices had risen astronomically last month, but said nothing about when the pharmacies that have been empty for more than three years will be restocked. Meanwhile, the people are suffering from curable plagues, and municipalities like Mayarí run the real risk of a massive medieval-style scabies outbreak.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1613600220_28912.html