14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 4 February 2018 — Shelves without medications and patients who do not find an answer to their needs; pharmacists who spend the day talking on the phone or doing manicures. Everything remains the same, but the newly restored pharmacies and opticians of the city of Cienfuegos are trying to hide their lack of supplies with paint.
“In the week just ended, there were 86 medications that were not available from the basic set,” Dr. Salvador Tamayo, provincial director of Public Health, said at a meeting held at the Provincial Hospital to which 14ymedio had access. The “basic set” consists of more than 800 medicines available in the country.
Most of the medicines that are missing from pharmacies are imported or require the use of foreign raw materials. The national austerity policy has meant that less budget is spent on acquiring medicines from abroad. According to official data, there are 32% fewer hospitals than there were 10 years ago, while the clinics where family doctors practice only have 40% of staff positions filled.
“This is like putting rouge on an old woman,” says María del Carmen Arroyo, a neighbor of the pharmacy on Arguelles Street. “They can paint and fix the roof, which is appreciated, but if we do not have medicines, why do we need a pharmacy,” she says.
The woman, 65, reports that buying an analgesic for her spinal pain has become her biggest nightmare. “The first thing is to go to the family doctor, who is never there, and when he arrives there is a tremendous line. Afterwards, you have to go out and search for the medicine, because in the pharmacy I am assigned to it is always missing,” she says.
Display cases filled with empty boxes and bottles of the same medications, mostly artisanal herbal syrups, adorn the shelves of the pharmacies, while bags of sanitary pads, sold on the ration book, accumulate in the corners.
“That medication is missing,” the pharmacist tells Maria del Carmen when she asks about methocarbamol. The woman does not give up and inquires about aspirin, dipyrone, kogrip and ibuprofen. Every time she receives the same answer, “That’s missing, compañera.”
The pharmacist, who prefers not to give his name, assures 14ymedio that the tinctures and syrups that they sell are the best substitutes for the medicines. “We have oregano syrup for coughing in case the patient has a cold. We also have a tincture of pumpkin seeds for the stomach and other homeopathic medicines,” he explains.
Francisco Ruíz is a 78-year-old retiree who knows the tricks of pharmacies. Every Tuesday he gets up very early and stands in line “to wait for the medicine truck.”
“The truck arrives around 10:00 in the morning to supply the pharmacy. Sometimes a little earlier,” he says, speaking like an expert.
The pharmacy is located on Calzada de Dolores, one of the busiest places in the Cienfuegos. “Soon the medicines are gone. If you come on Wednesday you cannot find anything,” he says.
Ruiz remembers the times when that pharmacy was privately owned. “On the façade they had a Virgin of Charity that the Government knocked down when they took over the apothecary. There was everything here. It was a bit expensive, but they had everything.”
The pensioner regrets that the population has to endure the lack of medicines while in the clinics and pharmacies for tourists there is no shortage of products.
“A few months ago my grandson needed Schostacovsky balsam (an antiseptic with healing properties). He does not hide his indignation when he relates his personal experience: “In normal pharmacies we did not find it and we had to pay almost 20 dollars for the bottle in a pharmacy for tourists that is in Punta Gorda.”
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.