Gail Reed: I want to tell you how 20,000 remarkable young people from over 100 countries ended up in Cuba and are transforming health in their communities. Ninety percent of them would never have left home at all if it weren’t for a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba and a commitment to go back to places like the ones they’d come from — remote farmlands, mountains, ghettos — to become doctors for people like themselves, to walk the walk.
Havana’s Latin American Medical School: It’s the largest medical school in the world, graduating 23,000 young doctors since its first class of 2005, with nearly 10,000 more in the pipeline. Its mission, to train physicians for the people who need them the most: the over one billion who have never seen a doctor, the people who live and die under every poverty line ever invented. Its students defy all norms.
They’re the school’s biggest risk and also its best bet . They’re recruited from the poorest, most broken places on our planet by a school that believes they can become not just the good but the excellent physicians their communities desperately need, that they will practice where most doctors don’t, in places not only poor but oftentimes dangerous, carrying venom antidotes in their backpacks or navigating neighborhoods riddled by drugs, gangs and bullets, their home ground .
The hope is that they will help transform access to care, the health picture in impoverished areas, and even the way medicine itself is learned and practiced, and that they will become pioneers in our global reach for universal health coverage, surely a tall order .
With over 80% of the island’s population fully vaccinated as of Nov. 20, Cuba is on course to reach 90% before the end of the year. This striking progress is based on highly effective vaccines developed and produced in Cuba. This is despite stepped-up sanctions that are part of Washington’s more than 60-year long economic war against Cuba’s socialist revolution.
People wait to be vaccinated for COVID-19 outside a doctors’ office in Alamar on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba,
Cuba is the only country in the world that has extended vaccinations to children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. In Cuba vaccination is voluntary. Their unprecedented success — which makes Cuba one of the top three countries in the world in vaccination rates, way ahead of the U.S. — shows what is possible when working people are convinced the government is theirs, not an enemy, and health care is a right, not a commodity to profit capitalist bosses.
With deaths from COVID now three or less a day — on some days it has been zero — Cuba has begun once again to welcome solidarity brigades and tourists from around the world, with no quarantine; hold broader public events and political activities; and reopen schools and factories.
The Joseph Biden administration has maintained all the economic and financial restrictions imposed by previous administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, and added more. The U.S. embargo “affects every aspect of life in our country,” Olga Lidia Jacobo-Casanueva, director of Cuba’s Center for State Control of Medicines and Medical Devices, told MEDICC Review earlier this year.
Chemicals needed for testing are difficult to procure, she said, as are spare parts and new equipment. Even paper and toner have been “dangerously low,” she said. That’s not a small question for records essential to modern health care. “This gives you an idea of the comprehensiveness” of the U.S. embargo, she said. “Something as simple as paper is hard for Cuba to purchase on the international market.”
Unlike Moderna and Pfizer, none of Cuba’s vaccines need storage at extreme cold temperatures, making them more suitable for rural areas and large parts of the semicolonial world. Cuba has already sent millions of vaccine doses to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Vietnam. With Cuba’s aid, the Iranian government is producing the vaccine there.
Working people’s increased confidence
Young people joined in making millions of daily visits to people’s homes during the peak of the pandemic to make sure everyone who needed medical treatment got it. Many joined volunteer agricultural brigades to alleviate food shortages exacerbated by the embargo. They were deeply impacted by the experience.
Alejandro López Rodríguez, a student at Havana’s CUJAE technology university, volunteered in the fields, in health centers and door to door. “It was a fantastic adventure, which has allowed me to learn about everything and grow as a human being,” he told the campus media.
On Nov. 21, the first Cuban plane since June landed in Argentina, reinitiating weekly air travel between the two countries. Argentina is historically a major source of tourism to Cuba. That same day, thousands across the island took part in a day of volunteer labor, preparing fields for planting and building homes.
Success in beating back COVID made possible the first national Day of Defense since the start of the pandemic. Workplace, campus, farm and neighborhood militias are a central part of Cuba’s revolutionary strategy of the “war of the entire people.” Thousands of volunteers refreshed their military skills while sending a message to Washington that it would pay a huge price if it tried to invade.
The mobilizations of popular support for the revolution and willingness to defend it arms in hands, in the face of hardships imposed by the U.S. imperialist rulers’ economic and political war, are no small factor in preventing Washington from attempting a repeat of its failed April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. That’s also why threatened Nov. 15 disruptions against the revolution instigated by Washington fizzled.
Working people and youth in Cuba are proud of what they have accomplished over the last year. At the same time, they’re aware that the worldwide capitalist economic crisis and the tightening of the U.S. embargo guarantee that shortages of essential goods and other challenges will remain. “There is a lot to do in Cuba, a lot to transform to overcome the challenges of so many external limitations and those of our own doing,” wrote Iroel Sánchez in the Nov. 21 Granma. “But we have good reason to celebrate one more victory against the most powerful empire in history
“There is nothing more inhuman during a pandemic than to block a country”, President Alberto Fernandez pointed out.
On Monday, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez addressed the economic and social situation of Cuba and Venezuela and ratified his position in favor of ending the U.S. economic blockades against these nations.
“This policy has prevented Cuba and Venezuela from accessing artificial respirators. Realize what that means”, Fernandez said, stressing that those who suffer the consequences of the blockades are not governments but the peoples.
Regarding Cuba, where the authorities are victims of a U.S.-promoted smear campaign, the Argentine president commented that the internal affairs of each country must be resolved without the intervention of third parties.
“Although we must promote dialogue and peace among the peoples, neither Argentina nor any country should tell a nation what it has to do or not to do”, Fernandez said, adding that if the international community is so concerned about what happens in Cuba and Venezuela, it should end the blockades.
In Venezuela, the U.S. blockade have caused a 99 percent fall in foreign exchange earnings since 2018. This illegal coercive measure have also affected the country’s access to medicines and food amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuba have suffered the consequences of this policy for over 60 years. On June, the United Nations General Assembly almost unanimously approved a resolution demanding the end of this coercive measure.
On Monday, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel assured that the United States has supported transnational actions to discredit the revolutionary government and fracture the unity of the Cuban people.
Abdala, one of Cuba’s five anti-COVID-19 vaccine candidates, showed 92.28% efficacy during the third phase of clinical trials, which is the fourth highest efficacy in vaccines developed worldwide so far. Abdala requires three doses per person, which are administered at an interval of two weeks. It induces maximum immunity within 42 days after the application of the first dose. The vaccine also showed efficacy against the mutant strains of the coronavirus that are spreading across the Latin American and Caribbean region.
The immunization of 4 million Venezuelans
The agreement between the two nations will facilitate the immunization of 4 million Venezuelans. The vaccine will be gradually delivered to the country between July and October.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, while receiving the first batch of vaccines, thanked Cuba, its government and its people for their support in the tough times. “Venezuela, from the depths of its soul, thank the people of Cuba, its president Miguel Díaz-Canel, his government and our comrades who accompany us in this daily battle against COVID-19,” she said.
“The vaccine showed efficacy against the mutant strains of the coronavirus that are spreading across the Latin American.”
Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, Dagoberto Rodríguez, ratified the cooperation of his country in the face of the pandemic. “We continue in the struggle for the health of our people and have a deep political will to do more every day to strengthen these ties between Venezuela and Cuba,” he said.
Venezuela began inoculating its healthcare workers and other priority sectors against COVID-19 on February 18 with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. In February, the Bolivarian government purchased 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. On June 1, it launched a mass vaccination campaign for the rest of the population with Sputnik V vaccines and 100,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines received in donation from China. On June 5, the government signed a deal to buy 10 million doses of Russia’s EpiVacCorona vaccine.
The government also bought 11 million doses of vaccine through the WHO’s COVAX initiative. However, the delivery of those vaccines was blocked due to the commercial, economic and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Venezuela.
On June 12, the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) blocked the last four installments of the payment made by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela towards the COVAX mechanism, due to the US coercive measures. After a global outcry, on June 17, the US government suspended part of the sanctions against Venezuela and lifted the penalties to companies that carry out transactions with the Venezuelan state related to combatting COVID-19.
US criminal sanctions
Despite the US criminal sanctions against Venezuela and decades long embargo against Cuba, and the losses of billions of USD, both the socialist countries are successfully fighting the pandemic.
According to the official data, Cuba maintains a recovery rate of 91.2%, with a total of 190,993 cases and 1,284 deaths from the disease. Likewise, Venezuela has a recovery rate of 93.1%, with 272,721 cases and 3,119 deaths.
Both Cuba and Venezuela have announced to vaccinate their entire population of over 11 million and 28 million people, respectively, for free. Cuba aims to inoculate 100% of its population and Venezuela hopes to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of the year.
Cuba began its vaccination drive on May 12. According to the Cuban Public Health Minister, as of June 29 , 2,758,893 Cubans have received at least one dose of one of its vaccines. Meanwhile, 2,060,212 people have received a second dose and 1,169,638 people have received a third dose. Similarly, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Health, about 11% of the Venezuelan population has been vaccinated.
Results of clinical trials of this combination of Soberana candidate vaccines were announced yesterday at a meeting of the government’s COVID-19 task force, led by First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
The combination of two doses of the candidate vaccine Soberana 02 and one of Soberana Plus, administered in a 0-28-56 day regimen, was found to have an efficacy of 91.2 percent, in preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, reported Dr. Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director of the Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV), at Thursday’s meeting of the Cuban government’s COVID-19 prevention and control task force.
An indication of how hard our scientists have worked
The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, congratulated the IFV and other institutions that participated in the creation of Soberana, “a result,” he said, “that is an indication of how hard our scientists have worked.”
Dr. Vérez recalled that the announcement comes exactly 415 days (59 weeks) after the President of the Republic met with a group of scientists at the Cuban Neurosciences Center (Cneuro) and requested that they develop a Cuban vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Referring to the meeting at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a few weeks ago, when the 92.28 percent efficacy of the Abdala vaccine candidate was announced to workers there, Diaz-Canel recalled that he made the request with the conviction that Cuban scientists would succeed.
Achieving sovereignty in theCOVID-19 battle
It was necessary, he pointed out, at the time, to have our own vaccines to achieve sovereignty in the COVID-19 battle, convinced that “Poor countries are not going to be able to have, on short order, the available vaccines that the rich world is producing to prioritize the rich.”
He recalled that the result was validated in phase 3 of the clinical trial carried out in eight municipalities of Havana, precisely when the strain originally detected in South Africa (Beta), “considered a “the beast” in terms of resisting vaccines against SARS-CoV-2,” was circulating within the capital.
The characteristics of the Beta strain, however, are not the same as those of the Delta strain detected in India, which, the IFV leader noted, is highly contagious, but much more susceptible to vaccines.
On Thursday afternoon, the Institute’s staff gathered to celebrate the successful results welcomed by all of Cuba.
As Dr. Vérez Bencomo pointed out in a previous meeting with the country’s leadership, IFV scientists are only halfway there; “We still have a lot to do, and we will not rest until the entire population is immunized with Cuban vaccines.”
Also leading the government task force meeting were Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, Vice President of the Republic Salvador Valdés Mesa and Roberto Morales Ojeda, Communist Party of Cuba secretary for Organization and Cadre Policy
Directors of Cuba’s Biotechnological and Pharmaceutical Industries Enterprise Group (BioCubaFarma) denounced the impact on their research and production of the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed on Cuba by the U.S. government.
They reported that the criminal policy specifically affects the industry’s ability to acquire raw materials, spare parts and supplies to guarantee medicines for the National Health System, and limits the progress of research projects.
The directors noted that the cost of inputs needed to manufacture candidate anti-COVID vaccines has increased. They must now be purchased through third countries, since usual suppliers have declined to continue doing business with Cuba for fear of U.S. reprisals.
The industry is affected every year in terms of research, manufacturing and marketing of its products, and academic and scientific exchange is limited. The Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, for example, reported to Prensa Latina that, despite interest, it has not been able to export to the United States the medication Heberprot-p, the only treatment of its kind in the world for diabetic foot ulcers.
During an exclusive interview with the journalist Ignacio Ramonet, the President of Venezuela referred to the relevance of the new National Assembly, the economic plans for 2021 and the constant aggressions against the country. teleSUR
Belly of The Beast is a media outlet that counters parachute journalism by providing stories directly from the island. The documentary series, The War on Cuba, gives an inside look on the effects of U.S. sanctions on Cuban people. Episode 3 explores Cuba’s healthcare program and medical brigades. We talk to doctors who served in Brazil, Bolivia and Italy, and of course the ones who held it down in Cuba during COVID-19.
The application of the Cuban Soberana vaccine candidate begins. Photo: Ismael Francisco / Cubadebate.
48 hours after being vaccinated, the first 20 subjects of the Clinical Trial of the anti-SARS-CoV-2 FINLAY-FR-1 vaccine candidate are in perfect health, the Coordinating Center reported on Wednesday. The 2020 Information Note No. 1 of the SOBERANA 01 Clinical Trial indicates that the only adverse effect recorded was mild pain at the injection site, which is a side effect, common to all vaccines.
The first safety report will be delivered on Monday, August 31 to the authorities of the Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices, said the statement released on the website of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, the leading center of the project. Subsequently, the trial will begin with the rest of the expected subjects, belonging to the age group between 60-80 years of age.
So far, the schedule provided for in this clinical trial is being met, where safety, reactogenicity, and immunogenicity are evaluated in healthy adults 19 to 80 years of age. Cuba is one of the first 14 countries to advance a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 to the clinical trials phase.