Among Conspiracies and Euphemisms… / Miriam Celaya

Fumigating the streets with petroleum vapors. Picture taken from Cubanet

This week, the official press published a lengthy press release that stated that the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) considered what they referred to as “the outbreak of intestinal infection caused by water pollution” had ended. It lasted for two months in eastern Cuba, leaving three dead and fewer than 500 patients, according to official data. Judging by the media, the cholera came and left the island without further damage. Indeed, it seems that — gone or not — what could have been an epidemic of devastating dimensions in a country where the lack of hygiene is widespread has been relatively controlled.

However, what the MINSAP’s note does not include is the intensification of a real epidemic that is gaining ground: dengue fever. The press has not made any statement about the proportions of the current dengue epidemic hitting most of the country. In the capital, an anti-vector campaign remains in place, managed directly by the military, including mobilization of medical personnel and paramedics who work seven days a week with extended hours.

Even with all these measures, there has been no progress in controlling the dengue. One element that undermines the population’s perception of the risk is precisely the lack of information. At the same time, the rainy season this year has been severe, even before the most recent rainfall throughout the Island brought on by Tropical Storm Isaac, which added to the poor state of water networks, the proliferation of vacant lots, the accumulation of trash, and the schools, closed for summer vacation, and not properly inspected by those in charge, has all led to the increased outbreaks of the mosquito that transmits the disease.

An example: just in the area around to the Van Troi polyclinic (at the corner of Carlos III and Hospital, Centro Habana), four to five new cases of dengue fever are reported every day. There are three quarantine hospitals in the capital dedicated to the admission of the more delicate cases, while those who get the classical, less severe case of dengue fever, are treated at home by doctors in their health area, a system that reduces hospital load, but increases the risk of infection at the community level.

Meanwhile, the dengue appears to be another state secret. The authorities are more interested in maintaining the flow of foreign tourists to the Island than in safeguarding the health of the population. Maybe one day this situation will reverse itself, but, meanwhile, ordinary Cubans are footing the bill.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 31 2012