14ymedio, Havana, 14 May 2020 — Mayonnaise, chicken, soaps, detergent, tomato sauce and a cloth to clean the floor make up the module that the Government is selling to healthcare workers in various hospitals in Havana. The entire package costs 750 CUP, just over $30, and represents more than half the average monthly salary of a healthcare worker.
For some medical specialists, the cost of the basket has represented one third of their salary, but in the case of technicians and nurses, the value of these products exceeds, or sometimes equals, the totality of their monthly salary. This newspaper has talked to employees who have had to ask family and friends for money to cover the purchase.
The module must be paid for in cash and the health authorities have not clarified if it is a one-time delivery or if the sale will be repeated in the coming months. In some hospitals it has been said that it will be distributed again in June.
“The hospital center negotiates with the workers about what they want the module to contain, taking into account the offers made by the Export and Import Corporation (CIMEX) and thus it is being adapted,” a doctor who works in a Havana health center told 14ymedio. “In my hospital they spent a week negotiating, the hospital’s management of the negotiation is what matters,” he explains.
“It is quite varied, for example cardiovascular workers askedfor 10 malts and 10 beers,” says another doctor. “Although it had no toilet paper, but there wasn’t any at that time… There were those who protested because it was too much money, but anyway the money would only buy the same thing at the store but with a five-hour line,” he says.
For the staff of the flagship Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital in Centro Habana, the module included a small can of tuna and another of evaporated milk.
In the last month, state businesses have suffered a resurgence of the shortage of basic products. The most demanded are chicken, cold cuts or sausages, vegetable oil, soaps and detergent, although agricultural markets and pork have also been severely affected by the pandemic.
In the first weeks of the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island, complaints were heard from medical personnel, who could not wait in line for hours to buy food and also attend to their healthcare duties. Initially, a strategy was devised to prioritize nurses and doctors in the lines, but finally the government seems to have opted for the distribution of baskets for the sector.
Although in 2014 the Government approved a salary increase for the more than 440,000 workers in the Public Health sector, the monthly salary still does not exceed the equivalent of $70, a figure that is almost symbolic in a country where a liter of sunflower oil reaches 2 dollars and a kilo of chicken is around 1.90 dollars.
Cubans have become accustomed for decades to offering gifts and ’incentives’ to physicians to get favorable treatment, a practice that the government prohibits but onte that has reached all levels of care and all specialties. However, the amount the doctors are collecting from this type of informal “entry fee” has been greatly reduced during the Covid-19 crisis by the suspension of many regular consultations.
As a consequence of this precarious situation, there are many Cuban doctors who want to serve on medical missions in other countries. Although once abroad they only receive between 10% and 25% of the total salary paid by local governments to Cuba’s Ministry of Health, this amount is much higher than what they receive on the island.
These days, when the pandemic has led to an upturn in official contracts to send health personnel abroad, many doctors are hoping to be sent to any of the 22 countries to which brigades have been sent from the Island.
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