14ymedio, Havana, 10 March 2021 — “Mommy, where did you leave the tip of your finger?” asked Yuneidis Cabañas Rivera’s three-year-old son when she returned from the hospital. The young woman lost a phalanx of the middle finger of her left hand after an infection could not be treated in time due to the lack of antibiotics in Cuban pharmacies.
Cabañas was cleaning a frozen chicken last January when she pricked her finger on a bone splinter. At first it seemed only a small wound, but little by little the inflammation and pain began, she told 14ymedio. Cabañas is a resident of the Martí neighborhood, in the Cerro municipality, in Havana.
Four days later, Cabañas could no longer bear the discomfort and decided to go to the emergency room at the Joaquin Albarrán Clinical Surgical Hospital, near her home. The doctor checked the young woman’s finger and recommended that she apply cold water creams and also start a cycle with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
But, to the pain suffered by the advance of the infection was then added the discomfort of not finding the necessary medicine in any pharmacy. “We spent three days visiting various pharmacies, but nothing,” laments Mercedes, Cabañas’ grandmother who helped her in the search for the missing antibiotic.
“The government says that we are a medical power but they are incapable of supplying antibiotics,” says Cabañas. “I went to the hospital three more times to change the prescription for another type of medicine, but I didn’t find those either,” adds the young woman who always encountered the same responses in pharmacies: Antibiotics are not coming in.
To avoid crowds in pharmacies, hospital managers have warned doctors that they should not prescribe drugs that are unavailable, but every day it is more difficult for doctors to find a drug that the patient can later buy without major setbacks.
Two weeks after the incident, a friend with medical knowledge who visited Cabañas recommended that she return immediately to the hospital and demand that she be treated “properly”: “If you have to get tough, you get tough but you’re going to lose your finger.”
Back at the Albarrán hospital, the young woman, accompanied by her grandmother, staged “a giant fit.” At first the doctors tried to save the entire finger and admitted her to try cures. There was no type of pain reliever or local anesthetic for the treatments and they were very harsh. “I couldn’t sleep the night before thinking about the procedure.”
Finally, on February 16, doctors could not avoid amputation of the upper phalanx of the middle finger on her left hand, because the infection did not recede and the entire hand could become gangrenous. Along with the loss, Cabañas suffered severe pain without any treatment.
Last December, amid a severe drug shortage on the island, Dr. Emilio Delgado Iznaga, director of Medications and Medical Technology of the Ministry of Public Health warned that the problem would continue for the next 12 months. The country will have “a very tight basic table of drugs due to financial tensions,” the official said, a prognosis that has worsened over the weeks.
Almost two months after the onset of the infection and three weeks after the phalanx was amputated, the area is still red, swollen and painful. Now, the great concern of Cabañas, who has not yet been able to find antibiotics in pharmacies, is that the infection will return and even spread to the entire hand.
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