Fourth Confirmed Coronavirus Case in Cuba, Where Shortage of Soap is an Aggravating Factor

The first four cases of Covid-19 in Cuba came from abroad. (5 de Septiembre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 13 March 2020 — A Cuban resident in Santa Clara, Villa Clara province, is the fourth confirmed case of coronavirus in Cuba. The patient’s wife, a Bolivian citizen based in Milan, traveled to the Island from the Lombardy region, in Italy, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Health read this Thursday on the National Television newscast.

The husband of a Bolivian citizen based in Milan entered the country on February 24, “apparently asymptomatic, and began to develop mild respiratory symptoms on the 27th of the same month,” confirmed the National Reference Center of the Institute of Tropical Medicine Pedro Kourí (IPK).

“On March 8, the husband began having respiratory symptoms, and both went to the Health system, where they were immediately admitted to the Villa Clara isolation hospital, and were later transferred and admitted yesterday to the IPK.”

The Ministry of Public Health explains that “in the tests carried out, the Cuban citizen was positive for the new coronavirus, while his wife was negative, given the time of 15 days of the evolution of the disease, from the first symptoms.”

“Epidemiological control actions are carried out on people identified as contacts, who remain asymptomatic and under surveillance. The evolution of both patients is favorable and neither one has presented, so far, as in danger of their life,” the note details.

During Thursday’s session it was also learned that the results of the analyses of three students from the Faculty of Architecture of the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana, Cujae, who had been sent to the IPK under observation on suspicion of being infected with the coronavirus, were negative.

“The results are negative but it is not certain and they will be repeated in a while,” reported one of the hospitalized youth. “We have to remain in the hospital,” he added.

The three students had had contact with a person who later tested positive for the virus after his return to Panama.

With regards to the three Italian tourists confirmed to have the coronavirus on Wednesday, the health authorities assure that they continue to evolve satisfactorily under strict medical surveillance.

The Ministry of Health reiterated, “People with respiratory symptoms need to promptly inform the health authorities of their presence.”

Cuba, which until Wednesday was without confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus, had been preparing for weeks for a battle whose complicated fronts will include the high percentage of elderly citizens and an insufficient supply of soap.

Three Italian tourists who arrived in Havana on Monday and immediately traveled to the colonial town of Trinidad, in the center of the island, are the “patients zero” in a country with a lot of experience in mobilizing almost militarily in critical scenarios such as hurricanes.

This response capacity will be tested in the context of the economic crisis of two decades, with shortages or intermittent insufficiency of hygiene products and endemic problems with the water supply.

The advanced age of the Cuban population is one of the risk factors for Covid-19, since the elderly are one of the groups at the highest risk of contracting the disease, and also have the highest mortality rates, according to global data that exists on the disease. Of the 11.2 million inhabitants of Cuba, 20.7% are over 60 years of age.

It is also a segment of the population that is especially vulnerable due to its low level of income: the minimum retirement pension barely exceeds 10 dollars a month, which has repercussions on nutrition, as food is sometimes insufficient, and the items available on the ration book are increasingly diminished.

Frequent hand washing is the most prevention measure most emphasized by health authorities to avoid contagion. But hygiene products, including soap and liquid detergent, have been in short supply for several weeks and according to the Ministry of Internal Trade, the situation will not improve before May.

“The production of the fundamental raw material for making soaps requires imported oils and fats which, during 2019, did not reach the country, due to the impossibility of tanker ships serving Cuban ports, due to the blockade (embargo),” says a note published this week in official media.

Bar soap is sold in convertible peso stores, but its price — about 35 cents — is high given that the average state salary is about $ 45 a month.

The other fundamental element for handwashing, water, also presents supply problems in some areas of Cuba where the liquid arrives in tank trucks but not daily. Just this week, it has been reported that deliveries have been reduced in various areas of Havana, which will only have supplies coming every three days. And although many homes have storage tanks, due to the perpetual crisis, the tanks are not always in perfect condition.

Two other serious risk factors that are endemic in Cuba are crowds of people. Experts call for distancing, a measure that is being tried to be applied across the world because of the success it has in spacing out contagion and thus staggering the impacts on the healthcare system.

Lines are very common, both for bureaucratic procedures and to buy food that has been unavailable and then returns to the markets. There are also huge crowds of people on public transport, especially with the perfect storm that is occurring in the absence of fuel.

Faced with this, the main strengths of the Island are its universal and free public health system, as well as the surveillance and control mechanisms that mean few things escape the knowledge of the authorities, a suspicious case in the neighborhood will quickly come to the ears of the blockwatch groups known as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which will report it to the health authorities.

In addition, Cuba has a very high proportion of doctors with respect to the total population: nine for every 1,000 inhabitants, according to official data from 2019; and a strong pharmaceutical industry that has already provided China with one of the drugs that was used there to treat the disease, the recombinant antiviral Interferon Alpha 2B (IFNrec).

However, the state of the hospitals is something that works against management of the disease, both due to the hygienic conditions and the deterioration of the infrastructure.


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