Cuban Hospitals on Verge of Collapse due to Covid and Lack of Supplies
Ambulances that never arrive, Emergency Rooms full of poorly treated patients, and the lack of medicines have the Cuban health system on the brink of collapse; the jewel in the crown of official propaganda. On the island there are growing complaints about patients who die with hardly any attention and others whose illnesses are progressing due to the lack of drugs.
The rebound in Covid-19 cases in Cuba since last January has resulted in a very complicated outlook for people suffering from other diseases and who find themselves with suspended medical consultations, overcrowded hospitals and a tired and under-resourced healthcare staff, a alarming scenario to which is added the lack of antibiotics and analgesics.
The musician and director of the Municipal Band of Concerts of the Diez de Octubre district in Havana, Xander Art, almost didn’t live to tell about it. “Yesterday I almost died,” begins a text on his Facebook account, a text that received dozens of comments of support in just a few minutes, and solidarity for his disturbing story.
Xander suffered a crisis of intense pain in the scapula, fever and seizures. After calling an ambulance, the artist had to wait more than an hour to be rushed to the Raúl Gómez García University Hospital Polyclinic, on Calle Coco at the corner of Rabí, in the same municipality. But he was rejected because his case “had nothing to do with what they were dealing with there,” he complains.
The band director had to be transferred to the Miguel Enríquez hospital, known as La Benéfica, and “there the nightmare begins,” he says in his publication. “A waiting room full of stretchers, a patient with a transfusion, a man dying, an old woman crying out to be killed, an injured person with a hole in his head, two or three more dying and a man masturbating in front of everyone.”
“It was a horror movie,” says Xander. “The doctor was sick, she went into her office, threw a bag of sodium chlorine on the floor and some nurses went to take her blood pressure. She had collapsed.” The artist had to wait hours for the results of an X-ray and analysis. “He was dehydrated, with chapped lips and almost blind from the pain. The doctor had gone from stress to a Zen stage where she was not listening to anyone.”
“Today I am at home, without knowing what I have, with herbal concoctions as if shamanism had returned to save us.” The musician says he is afraid of “not knowing what is happening, of having a seizure again and not waking up, of having something more serious than I thought at first,” but he has no choice but to “pull out his contacts and wallet and sleep peacefully.”
“This country is dying and I do not see a cure. Please, if you read me, take care, try to maintain a good diet as much as possible, not to stress more than necessary. We are at a level where we cannot get sick from anything because there are no medicines nor hospitals nor even any humanity,” he added.
Among the comments to Xander’s text, some Internet users respond with similar stories that they have suffered in Cuban hospitals and others offer him a medicine that they have saved “for emergencies.” In the last two years, barter and the informal market have become the only way to get hold of drugs that have disappeared from pharmacies and hospitals.
A Twitter user identified as Alex Jorge also denounced this Friday that, at the same Miguel Enríquez hospital, his aunt was discharged because they were unable to amputate her foot. The lady is diabetic and according to the photos shown by the internet user, her left foot is very swollen and has two infected wounds.
“Today my aunt was discharged, because, and I quote, ‘they are not amputating, so do the cures at home.’ My cousin saw how the patients had to take their medicines from home because [in the hospital] there aren’t any,” wrote Alex Jorge.
He added that the justification given by the healthcare workers is that surgery cannot be done because of “a bacterium” in the operating room. At the end of the letter he said that his aunt needs “iodine, nitrofurazone, gauze, growth factor, pentoxifylline for circulation and warfarin… There is none of that,” he said.
Another problem that the Cuban health system faces is that the sources of Covid-19 infection that are generated among healthcare workers and patients. The contagions cause the closure of some medical centers, and therefore, the collapse of others. In the capital, these days, about 700 families are kept in quarantine due to an infection event at the Tomás Romay polyclinic, in Old Havana.
That, together with the shortages of supplies, complicates the situation. At the end of last year, the authorities warned that the severe shortage of drugs would continue in 2021. The country only has “a very tight “basic table of medicines due to” financial tensions,” Dr. Emilio Delgado Iznaga, Director of Medicines and Medical Technology of the Ministry of Public Health, acknowledged at the time.
“Patients come with pain, wounds or infections but what I have for everyone is the same: I tell them to calm down, drink a lot of water and go home to rest,” acknowledges a doctor in the Joaquín Albarrán Domínguez Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital, on 26th Street, also in the Cuban capital.
“Everything we have is destined right now for Covid-19 patients, anyone who comes with another condition, there is little that can be done,” warns the doctor who preferred to remain anonymous. “Every night that I am on duty, this seems like a battlefield here because patients with very serious problems arrive and they have to be left in the corridors for hours and without the medications.”
“What people are not being told is that they should not only take great care to avoid the coronavirus, but that they should take extreme care to avoid accidents, medical complications of any kind and even diarrhea, because hospitals do not have conditions right now to manage any of that,” advises the doctor.