Havana Takes Measures to Control the Worst Outbreak of Cholera in Several Years / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

Sign: Prohibited to enter without washing your hands.

The Cuban health authorities have admitted the existence of a cholera outbreak that so far has affected fifty people in Havana. Ten days after being detected by clinical epidemiological surveillance system and with rumors already circulating through the city, the newspaper Granma published on Tuesday’s front page an “Informative Note to the Population” where they “announced” the existence of the disease in the Cuban capital, while advising that the transmission of the disease is declining as a result of the measures taken.

Several independent journalists had already warned about the disease and the death of at least one person, which the Ministry of Public Health has not yet acknowledged. Also some foreign correspondents broadcast the news in recent days, leaving the national press little chance of continuing to hide the situation.

Before the official media confirmed the outbreak, sanitary measures were already visible in public places, especially those where great numbers of people gather. In the bus and railway terminals, and in polyclinics, schools and taxi stations extraordinary hygiene measures were established, including placing containers on the floor with disinfectants and bactericides to clean the soles of shoes. Also in workplaces and schools they have recommended having chlorinated water for washing hands.

According to reports in the official media, the transmission originated from a food distributor who carried the disease, caught during earlier outbreaks in the eastern provinces.

Since early last week we have seen unusual purchases of bottles of mineral water and liquid antibacterial products, available only in the stores that operate in hard currency, while the pharmacies ran out of the sodium hypochlorite used to disinfect drinking water. In the crowded Cerro municipality they ordered the temporary closure of food expeditor establishments, both those administered by the state as well those newly emerged since the expansion of self-employment.

Protective measures proposed on TV are being taken very seriously and include the recommendation to avoid eating in the street. Families who until recently have been drinking directly from the tap, have begun to boil their water to avoid infection. The deteriorated state of the water network has made the complete eradication of cholera more difficult.

Special irritation has been caused by the media blackout on the existence of the outbreak, which  impeded the massive expansion of measures of protection. Many note that the delay in providing information was influenced by the intention to not affect international tourism, one of the locomotives of the Cuban economy. Another reason for so much secrecy might be to avoid the stigma of the appearance of a disease that tends to show up in very poor countries or those with poor healthcare systems.

Yoani Sanchez

16 January 2013