Health Challenges are Multiplying in Cuba, with Dengue Fever and a Covid Variant

Young Andy Agüero Barrios died, after waiting for an ambulance that didn’t arrive, according to his mother. (Facebook/Maritza Barrios)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 July 2022 — Problems are accumulating for the Cuban authorities, and not even the old jewel in the crown can give joy. The latest worry has been the deaths from dengue hemorrhagic fever of a girl under the age of seven in Cienfuegos and a pregnant doctor. In addition, another minor died in Havana, while waiting unsuccessfully for an ambulance.

These deaths are an example of the bad situation on the island with the disease, which forced the Minister of Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, to give a press conference this Thursday.

The Paquito González Cueto pediatric hospital in Cienfuegos published a letter defending what they consider an attack on its professionals and the use of a minor’s death by the Miami press. Paola Patricia Rodríguez, seven years old, died on Wednesday in this center after several days in intensive care, and the news circulated a day later amid criticism of the institution for failing to save the little girl.

“Our institution, since the night of last July 13, began to receive attacks from social networks on doctors, pediatric intensive care workers, nurses and other workers,” says the letter, disseminated on the institution’s Facebook account. “Those who are trying to hurt and distort the facts should know that there is no greater pain for a pediatric institution than the death of a girl or a boy. The pain is intensified because we are attached to our patients,” it continues.

The letter calls for an end to the manipulation and use of other people’s pain and claims that patients are important for health professionals. Hundreds of people expressed solidarity with the text, although some comments indicate that the problem is not the hospital workers, but the inadequacy of the human and material resources to treat the patients, a result of the deep crisis that the country is suffering.

The death is in addition to that of Mercy Hernández, a Cuban doctor whose death was reported on social networks by a friend who shared images of her funeral. The cause of the young woman’s death has not been revealed by this person, who only said that her pregnancy was complicated, but a Facebook user in the province commented that the doctor had dengue hemorrhagic fever.

The epidemiological situation in this regard is worrying, as confirmed by the data indicated by Portal Miranda on Thursday. In the first six months of the year, 3,036 cases of dengue were detected on the island in 12 provinces, and the forecast is not good. The minister was clear about it: “We are not at the worst moment.”

In the coming months, heat and humidity will function as an ideal breeding ground for the spread of the disease, according to the ministry’s forecast. In addition, the incidence rate has grown by 42% compared to the previous period, so the Minister of Health has called for extreme precautions.

Last week, Madelaine Rivera, National Director of Surveillance and Vector Control of the Ministry of Public Health, placed the increase so far this year at 21.7%, so the speed at which the situation is worsening is evident.

“Cuba has experience in the management of dengue, and the health system is prepared to assimilate the number of cases; however, what we don’t do now can complicate the epidemiological scenario in the coming months, which are the most complex for this disease, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” said Portal Miranda, although he acknowledged that the situation is problematic and the lack of basic medicines seriously affect the problem.

Several people confirmed to 14ymedio that at least two hospitals in Havana, Calixto García and Manuel Fajardo, are overwhelmed and materials of all kinds, including reagents, are missing. In Santiago de Cuba there is also a lack of bags for transfusions, according to this newspaper’s sources.

No mention was made, however, of the lack of fumigation reported by the residents of the capital, one of the areas most affected by dengue along with Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The  arrival of the mosquito brigades is always a cause of discomfort for citizens, who must leave their homes for the operation, but the effect of their lack is being noticed.

But the problems don’t end with dengue. Portal Miranda warned this Thursday of the increase that is occurring in data on COVID-19 infections. The disease has already reached its subvariant BA.5, derived from omicron, and the whole world is noticing its effects. The strain is transmitted even faster than its “mother,” and although it doesn’t seem to impact hospitalizations and deaths, countries are aware of the effect it can have, since the more people infected, the more chances of cases with complications.

“Although it’s more transmissible, so far it has not had an impact on health services or intensive therapies,” Portal said. However, the authorities have been recommending for days that the habit of a mask not be abandoned in crowded places.

The death of another minor in El Cotorro, Havana, while waiting unsuccessfully for an ambulance, gives emphasis to the situation. Maritza Barrios, mother of Andy Agüero Barrios, asked for help through her Facebook profile due to the lack of transportation to transfer her son, autistic and blind, to the hospital to receive an urgent transfusion. Although it is unknown what afflicted the boy, his mother desperately said that he needed an ambulance that was impossible to locate. A few hours later, according to the mother herself, the child died.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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