14ymedio, Mercedes García, Havana, 6 December 2021 — Ernesto, a resident of the Kilo 12 neighborhood in the city of Sancti Spíritus, has had to wait for the relaxation of measures due to the covid-19 pandemic to go to the dentist. For almost two years he has had several cavities that bother him but since the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island only emergency cases are treated.
Unable to bear the toothaches for another day, he decided to go to the Provincial Dental Clinic this Monday. Upon arriving at the health center, he found the receptionist talking on the phone with her feet up on a piece of furniture; he had to wait about ten minutes for the state employee to attend to him.
“Only emergencies are being seen,” the woman said bluntly, as soon as Ernesto asked if they were offering consultations. “I can’t keep waiting, it’s been almost two years without attention, I get a lot of pain when I drink cold water,” the patient explained. “The autoclave (equipment used to sterilize the instruments) is broken,” justified the employee. “And it is not known when they will fix it.”
Ernesto then asked if he could be treated urgently and given some procedure to stop the pain, but the receptionist told him that there were no materials in the clinic for this procedure either. “I can pass you on, but we don’t even have materials to cover you there,” she added.
The man did not lose hope of solving his ailment and decided to go to a polyclinic in the city to be treated and “at least they would put a temporary filling or a band-aid” as it is popularly known, he told 14ymedio.
When visiting two polyclinics, he found several people in the same situation, who were also informed that there were no materials and that the emergencies were being treated at the Provincial Clinic until six in the afternoon, at the same health center where he had gone before and where they assured him that they had nothing to take care of his cavities, they could only open a hole and leave it exposed until there were materials.
“They tell you that there are no materials, but if you offer a little money they treat you. Medical power? Power of lies is what we are,” complained one of the group’s patients.
The panorama is repeated throughout the island. In Havana, 34-year-old Niurka Tamaris has “a hole in a tooth” that she has managed to overcome by filling it with gum, pieces of adhesive tape and other emergency solutions. “My quality of life has been reduced, I can’t eat anything cold, I can’t eat sweets and I can’t eat anything that I have to chew too much.”
Tamaris’s problem started in December 2019. A piece of a molar, with an old aluminum filling, broke off. After several attempts to be treated at her polyclinic in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, she returned home discouraged. “When there was no lack of electricity, it was because the sterilizing apparatus was broken or else there were no gloves.”
The dentist who saw her on her last visit assured her that new supplies would arrive in the summer of 2020 and the problem could be solved. But the coronavirus arrived before then and a split tooth did not classify as an “emergency” to be treated in the emergency room. “They told me the only thing they could do was extract it and I didn’t want to lose it.”
A year and a half later, he still has the problem that threatens to generate an infection. “Now the situation is even worse because they tell you that they are seeing to pending cases according to the order of severity and, a tooth that is missing a piece but does not have an abscess, is nothing that they are going to attend to first.”
“Here they talk a lot about the quality of Public Health but you have to look at people’s teeth, in very bad condition,” says Tamaris. “My sister, who is four years older, does not have a tooth left and my father has needed a prosthesis for four years and there is no material to make it.”
The Ministry of Public Health said last March that “despite the pandemic and the strengthening of the United States embargo, Cuba arrived at World Oral Health Day with dental indicators similar to those of the most developed countries.”
However, infrastructure problems, materials and power outages have become a constant in Cuban state dental services, which are almost the only services allowed in the country. Private practice of the profession is only allowed for those who received their degree before 1959, or outside the country.
The few private practices that still remain on the island are suffocated by the inability to import supplies and to hire personnel who have obtained a diploma in “the revolutionary universities.” Hence, many professionals perform illegal work in the same official premises or maintain a small informal dental office that they feed with products purchased on the black market diverted from state distribution networks.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.