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U.S. imperialist blockade obstructed Cuban AIDS treatment

Lavender & red, part 101

Published Jun 13, 2007 9:07 PM

The Cuban approach to AIDS saved lives, Joseph Mutti concluded in June 1999. “Cuba now has one of the world’s lowest rates of infection, with only one of every 1,500 persons testing HIV-positive (the U.S. rate is 1 of every 550). That statistic is especially remarkable given Cuba’s sexually active youth and easygoing attitudes about sex.” (“Love and Honesty: The Dawn of Gay Rights,” Resource Center of the Americas.org)

MEDICC Review explained that, “By the end of 2001, Cuba will have approved its most ambitious offensive yet against HIV/AIDS: setting up a National Task Force Against AIDS (GOPELS),” to be headed by the minister of public health and the secretary of the council of ministers.

“Their job will be to integrate prevention strategies among the various national players, including the Public Health and Education Ministries, the Federation of Cuban Women, and other government agencies and NGOs. They will be guided by the ‘Strategic Plan for Controlling HIV/AIDS,’ outlining national strategies against the virus for the next five years.” (Vol. II, No. 1, 2—2001)

The biggest problem in dealing with AIDS on the island continued to be access to medicine for free distribution to the population because of the U.S. blockade.

MEDICC Review noted in 2001 that, “Early treatment of AIDS consisted of AZT, interferons and other drugs commonly used in international protocols—but often more difficult for Cuba to purchase because many were patented by U.S. pharmaceutical companies and therefore not freely available to Cuban importers under the restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo.

“Earlier this year, Cuba began to manufacture its own anti-retrovirals and make them available to AIDS patients free of charge. Cuba has maintained a strong research component in the fight against AIDS, primarily through studies of the application of interferons to AIDS patients and the continued research to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine.”

In February 2003, it was reported that treatment of Cubans with AIDS had greatly improved over the preceding two years because Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry was producing its own generic copies of anti-HIV medicines. Dr. Byron Barksdale, director of a U.S. medical group, said, “Cuba now produces enough anti-viral medicines for its own patients and it has offered to supply other nations in the Caribbean region.” (Financial Times, Feb. 16, 2003)

The Financial Times—no friend to socialist construction—reported, “Cuba has much to teach the world about tackling AIDS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard on [Feb. 16]. A wide-ranging prevention and treatment program, backed by strong political action, has given the Caribbean country the lowest prevalence of AIDS disease and HIV infection in the western hemisphere—and one of the lowest rates in the world.”

Cuba addresses world impact

In its issue coinciding with International AIDS Day 2001, MEDICC Review noted, “Today, some 36 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, over 25 million of them in Africa, where most have no way to pay for the drugs that might extend their lives. They die with no treatment in sight.” (Vol. II, No. 1, 2)

MEDICC Review reprinted the full text of a speech by Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage Dávila, delivered earlier that year at the United Nations General Assembly on AIDS. Lage Dávila had offered his socialist government’s offer of Cuban solidarity for people with AIDS, “especially those in the developing countries most affected.”

In his speech on June 25, 2001, Lage Dávila said, “No country is free of AIDS. Some—the privileged and rich—have managed to reduce the mortality rate with medicines sold at high, unreasonable prices. Others—unfortunate and poor—are experiencing a terrifying reduction in their population’s life expectancy and a demographic decline that could lead them to extinction.”

He stressed that, “In many African nations, the number of teachers who die from AIDS each year is greater than the number of new teachers graduating. The deaths in sub-Saharan Africa to date are equivalent to those that would have resulted from dropping on the region 70 bombs like the ones on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a dramatic paradox that, in this new millennium, the same continent that witnessed the appearance of humankind’s first ancestors six million years ago begins to witness the disappearance of humankind.

“Cuba also suffers from this disease; there have been 2,565 people living with HIV/AIDS in our country, 388 of whom currently have the full-blown disease, and 896 of whom have died over the last 14 years.

“Our program to fight AIDS,” Lage Dávila explained, “guarantees comprehensive care for people with HIV and AIDS, free anti-retroviral treatment for all, specialized medical centers for those who require them and a constant struggle for patients to achieve the fullest social integration, with all their rights and without discrimination.

“It also guarantees access to safe blood, certifying that 100 percent of blood donations are free of AIDS, hepatitis and other illnesses; voluntary testing of all pregnant women, resulting in zero mother-child transmission since 1997; and an education and prevention strategy aimed at vulnerable groups, young people and the entire population. We have the lowest AIDS rate in the Americas and one of the lowest in the world, with 0.3 percent of the population between 15 and 49 years affected.

“Even in the face of the [U.S.] blockade, which prevents our access to 50 percent of the world’s new medicines because they are produced in the United States,” Lage Dávila stressed, “we have controlled the epidemic, and what is more, achieved a life expectancy of 76 years and an infant mortality rate of less than seven. Cuba participates in this Assembly as a responsible member of the international community, showing solidarity and modesty and freely offering our experience and collaboration.”

Solidarity proposal

Lage Dávila stated, “The U.N. Secretary General has proposed—and is making a worthy and just effort to obtain—$7 to $10 billion for the fight against AIDS. The amount is not enough and money alone cannot solve the problem, but it is a necessary start. It is incomprehensible to think that this life-saving money cannot be found in a world that spends 40 times more on illegal drugs, 80 times more on military budgets and 100 times more on advertising.

“It is incomprehensible to think that this life-saving money cannot be found in a world where 20 percent of the population is responsible for 86 percent of private consumption, and where the personal fortunes of 22 people each exceed the amount the Secretary General is requesting, fortunes that in total represent 43 times his request.”

Lage Dávila pointed to the U.S.: “The richest and most powerful nation in history—that claims it is a human rights champion, does not make its payments to the U.N. and is trying to reduce its contribution to the WHO [World Health Organization]—dedicates barely 0.2 percent of its gross domestic product to development. It is the only country that voted against the resolution giving every individual the right to have access to AIDS medicines, while at the same time, it has unleashed an insane arms race upon the world, with the sale of the most sophisticated instruments of war to allies and followers, and its global missile shield initiative.

“There is no need to elaborate further to understand that the international economic order is criminally unjust, that when the words ‘democracy,’ ‘human rights,’ ‘individual liberty,’ ‘equal opportunities’ and others come from the mouths of the powerful, they ring hollow and demagogic.”

Lage Dávila delivered Cuba’s urging that the special session of the U.N. General Assembly proclaim that:

“AIDS drugs and other vital medicines required on a large scale should not be protected by patents. People cannot be allowed to make money off the lives of human beings.

“The foreign debt of the poorest countries should be cancelled immediately and unconditionally. They have already paid more than once.

“The next Group of Seven meeting, instead of adopting a new economic liberalization to impose on the world’s poor and less fortunate, should agree to reduce their military budgets to raise at least U.S. $10 billion requested by the U.N. And they should turn these funds over today, not sit by while 25 million more people die. This is merely a small part of their social debt to the Third World.”

Cuban government offer

Lage Dávila concluded with an offer from the Cuban government to the poorest countries and those with the highest prevalence of the illness:

• Four thousand doctors and health personnel to create the necessary infrastructure to supply the population with the prescription drugs and necessary follow-up and to train a large number of specialists in their own fields, including nurses and allied health technicians.

• Sufficient professors to establish 20 medical schools, many of whom could be chosen out of the 2,359 Cuban doctors who were then serving in 17 countries as part of Cuba’s Integral Health Program. These schools could train 1,000 doctors annually in countries that need the most assistance.

• Doctors, teachers, psychologists and other specialists needed to assess and collaborate with campaigns to prevent AIDS and other illnesses.

• Diagnostic equipment and kits necessary for basic prevention programs.

• Anti-retroviral treatment for 30,000 patients.

Lage Dávila concluded, “All it would take is for the international community to provide the raw materials for the medicines, the equipment and material resources for these products and services. Cuba would not obtain any profits, and would pay salaries in its national currency, thus taking on the most expensive part for international health agencies, as well as the most difficult part, which is to ensure that the professionals are prepared and ready to begin their work.”

The U.S.-led political and economic blockade of Cuba kept this offer of socialist solidarity from reaching those around the world who most needed it.

Next: Arc of progress on same-sex love and gender variance visible in Cuban films.

To find out more about Cuba, read parts 86-100 of Lavender & Red at workers.org.

E-mail: [email protected]