14ymedio, Yankiel Gutierrez Faife, Camajuani, 16 October 2022 — On Friday a crowd of locals gathered in front of an old mansion that now serves as a pharmacy. As if by magic, the store shelves were filled with medicines that have not been seen for months. The sudden abundance generated suspicion. Where did all these drugs come from?
An employee provided a simple answer: “They’re about to expire.” The scene was repeated in nearby towns such as Taguayabon as well as municipalities such as Remedio and Santa Clara. The outrage of those waiting in line quickly grew.
Why did public health officials wait so long to provide these drugs? What warehouse were they being stored in and why are they about to expire. Frantic over having to process and sell the medications, pharmacies in the province are trying to make them available to customers as quickly as they can.
Outside the pharmacies, people openly express their frustrations. “Bad management, like everything else,” says Ramon, one of the residents, “I don’t understand why there was nothing before and now it’s here in record time. It’s because they had it in storage.”
Miguel, another customer, suspects the drugs came from the National State Reserve Warehouse, where the government stockpiles medications to deal with critical shortages. “I asked the employees and even they don’t know where they came from,” he says. “All that matters to them is that they sell them before they expire.”
“They should lower the price,” argues another customer, who observes that Cubans will consume any medication, even if it is out-of-date, as long as it does not “look funny,” is not off-color and is not visibly disintegrating.
“Yesterday, my sister-in-law told me that medicines would be available,” says Yudit. “So today I got up early to see if I could get paracetamol, loratadine, diazepam and chlordiazepoxide. But it was no use. I was only able to get some paracetamol tablets, for 3.40 pesos, and loratadine, which cost me 8.60.”
Unsurprisingly, the situation is not unique to Villa Clara. As soon as word got out, lines also formed in front of the pharmacies in Sancti Spiritus and Havana.
“It’s not that they’ve expired; it’s that they’re about to expire,” explains Juan, an allergy sufferer from Sancti Spiritus “But a lot of drugs are still not available. I still can’t buy ketotifen, montelukast or any other antihistamine.”
Maria Eugenia’s hands are sweaty and her eyes dart from side to side. For months the 65-year-old Havana resident has been unable to get the medications a doctor prescribed for her persistent anxiety, from which she has suffered since her husband died several years ago and her son emigrated, leaving her alone on the island.
“I can’t go without chlordiazepoxide,” she says. “At the pharmacy where I am supposed to get it, several of us are in the same situation. Our nerves are shot and we can’t get the medication we need.”
Recently, Maria Eugenia waited in line from midnight till the pharmacy in Central Havana, where she has to buy the medication she urgently needs, opened the next morning. “They said they had to set aside some of the nerve pills for people who have a heart disease. But it was a lie.”
By dawn, she says, “It looked like a line of crazies because you could clearly see the huge anxiety on all our faces. But when the pharmacy opened, the employees told us they had not received any of our medications.
Frustrated and desperate, Maria Eugenia turned to the black market, where she paid 350 pesos for twenty chlordiazepoxide tablets. “They were made in Cuba so they must have been stolen from some store or pharmacy,” she speculates. She noted that the expiration date on the bottle was October 2022.
“I am going to go ahead and take them because I don’t have any other option,” she says. I don’t have the luxury of waiting to find some other tablets that aren’t about to expire and I cannot get by without this medication. I go out every day knowing I have a few pills in my bag. Just knowing that calms my anxiety.
Many Cubans cope by anticipating these situations: “You have to pester the doctor and ask for your prescriptions every month. You never know when the medicines are going to arrive and you have to be prepared.”
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