Detroiters Demand: Allow Emergency Medical Aid from Cuba

Henry Reeve brigade
Some doctors from the Henry Reeve medical brigade in Jamaica. | Photo: Jamaica News

By Jason Tschantre

As quarantine-weary crowds flocked to beaches over Memorial Day weekend, scientists and health-conscious people in the United States had to face, once again, the well-founded fear that COVID-19 is far from over. Some media sources have predicted that COVID-19 could be plaguing the U.S. for years, with 60-70% of the population infected. So far, over 1.7 million across the states have already been infected, which is more than 6 times higher than the second worst-hit country, Brazil. Over 100,000 here are dead from the virus, which is more than twice as bad as the second highest death toll, in the UK. And while the well-respected Dr. Anthony Fauci recently voiced concern about reopening the economy, his boss Donald Trump ignored the danger, declined to wear a face-mask and continued to promote the usage of Hydroxychloroquine. That drug has been rejected for COVID-19 treatment due to its deadly results. The aggregate picture here is a country in catastrophe, utterly inept at handling the epidemic in spite of its status as the wealthiest country in the world.

Not every country has had such a hard time handling COVID-19. Unlike the USA and European “democratic” countries like Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland, socialist countries have handled the epidemic astonishingly well. Vietnam still has no deaths, and only a few hundred infections. China, which had the disadvantage of facing the virus first, halted the outbreak beyond its hardest-hit city, Wuhan, and flatlined its infections at just above 80,000 back in late February. Its deaths never exceeded 5000 (out of about 1.4 billion people). Both Vietnam and China succeeded by implementing serious quarantine policies effectively and early.

Even countries under severe sanctions by the U.S., namely Venezuela and Cuba, have handled the epidemic well. In Venezuela – a country the U.S. loves to malign as backwards and corrupt – only 10 people have died, and around 1200 have been infected out of 30 million inhabitants. Compare those numbers with neighboring Colombia, which has 18 times as many infections and 75 times as many deaths, in spite of having fewer than twice as many people. Another of Venezuela’s neighbors, Brazil, has one of the world’s worst outbreaks. In spite of crippling sanctions, the Venezuelan government has taken good care of its people, earning the praise of even its own right wing.

Cuba, which has been under US embargo for over 60 years, and is famously poor, still has under 2000 infections and under 100 deaths. However, Cuba’s internal numbers aren’t its most impressive stats. Cuba has sent over 2000 doctors to over 20 countries, in order to help them fight the epidemic. This has earned them a proposal for a Nobel Peace prize, backed by organizations in 40 countries, including France, Spain, Ireland, and Italy. Their drug, Interferon Alfa-2b, which is on a short list of drugs that has shown effectiveness against COVID-19, is currently being mass-produced in a joint-venture with China, and is sought by over 45 countries. Both internally and externally, Cuba’s doctors succeed because of their approach to healthcare, which stresses community ties. Cuban doctors go door-to-door, checking on every citizen, and gathering data.

Socialist countries like Cuba and China, as well as those on the path towards socialism like Venezuela, succeed because they have healthcare systems, instead of healthcare industries, like the US. They guarantee free healthcare to their people, and the government foots the bill. Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world (627 per 100,000 people), which is why they are able to send so many of their doctors to other countries, and still administer first-rate care to their own citizens. Cuba’s Biotech program (unlike the USA’s Biotech industry), was set up by Fidel Castro in the 1980’s. In addition to Interferon Alfa-2B, Cuba has developed drugs to treat cancer and diabetes, which are sought every year by people in the United States who might, without them, face amputations or death.

When viewing the success of Cuba’s healthcare system, side by side with the USA’s catastrophic failure at handling COVID-19, it isn’t hard to understand why citizens, organizations, and politicians in the U.S. are beginning to look to Cuba for help. Last week, the Minnesota state legislature took up a proposal to ask the Cuban government for medical assistance. The People’s COVID-19 Response, a national grassroots organization based in Chicago, has hosted many informative webinars about the history and effectiveness of Cuba’s healthcare system. People’s COVID-19 Response has called for Cuba’s methods to be taught and implemented in the US. Another national group, IFCO/Pastors For Peace, has launched, with the goal of lifting the embargo, and allowing Cuban medical aid into the US and Canada. In Michigan, the Moratorium NOW Coalition has launched AEMAC (Allow Emergency Medical Aid from Cuba), to pressure Governor Gretchen Whitmer to use existing Michigan laws which would allow Cuban medical workers and Cuban medicine directly into the state, in light of the health emergency facing all Michigan residents.  Black and brown residents of Detroit, Native Americans, and the prison population are all especially in need of help, and have been ignored by the US healthcare industry.

AEMAC’s Organizational Statement has openly called for Whitmer to utilize the emergency legislation to reach out to Cuba, and has been gathering endorsements from prominent individuals, doctors and community organizations. Endorsers can add their name to the list which includes the National Lawyers Guild, the National Association of Black Social Workers, the Latin America Solidarity Committee, and others. Members of the Governor Whitmers’ newly-formed Special Task Force to Investigate COVID-19 Racial Disparities have also lent their support to the movement and AEMAC is seeking to link the fledgling task force with Cuban medical expertise, in order to implement community-focused health initiatives such as contact-tracing, which are sorely missing from all US state health programs.

It’s no surprise that many US medical and political institutions have dismissed the idea of asking Cuba for help. Both major political parties in Washington are vocal enemies of the Cuban government. Worse, most people in the U.S. are woefully under-educated about the Cuban health system and its many achievements. It’s hard for people to understand how Cuba could help the US. However, as the COVID-19 catastrophe continues to smolder and infect more and more people, the need for Cuban help will only increase. The US healthcare industry shows no indication that it will improve. Groups like AEMAC only expect their organizational power to grow in the coming weeks and months.

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