Official Data on Covid Deaths in Cuba are ‘Imprecise’ Admits the Minister of Health

A doctor from Cienfuegos told ’14ymedio’ that 36 deaths occurred in his hospital, but only four cases had a positive test. (EFE)

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14ymedio, Havana, 19 August 2021 — Chaos in hospitals, in cemeteries and, now, in the numbers of deaths from covid-19 in Cuba. The Minister of Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, has admitted that the official data are “imprecise” in statements this Wednesday to Invasor, the provincial newspaper of Ciego de Ávila. The high official recognizes that the statistics only enter the deceased who have a positive PCR at the time of death and this is not always carried out or, simply, the result does not arrive in time.

On the other hand, the same article points out, in the Antonio Luaces hospital those who have tested positive in the rapid test or have symptoms compatible with the disease are being reported as deceased by coronavirus, in addition to those who have died from after effects after negative test results.

According to the official gazette, with the inclusion of these cases, the statistics “rise,” although the testimony rather adds confusion to being admitted from a hospital center that does not follow the Ministry’s protocol, which sows doubt about how deaths are accounted for in each center.

This Tuesday, a doctor from Cienfuego s told 14ymedio that 36 deaths occurred in his hospital, but only four cases had a positive test, so the official notification was four.

Last week, complaints also came from Guantánamo, where Ihosvany Fernández, director of Communal Services in Guantánamo, acknowledged that the funeral service is overwhelmed and they have been forced to use two Etecsa (phone company) vans and two Commerce trucks to transport bodies.

“On August 4 we worked with 67 [deceased], on the 3rd with 61 and on the first day of August with 80,” of the latter 69 were in the city. The official data published by the Ministry of Public Health for these two days gave, respectively, 9 and 8 deaths in Guantánamo, instead of the 67 and 80 managed by the Communal Services, and registered a national total of 93 and 98 deaths for those same dates.

The page that analyzes the data of the Ministry of Public Health has been idle for days and has been updated twice in the last month when it used to be updated daily. “Due to the fact that the way of reporting the deceased by the Minsap was changed, we will be making some changes in the project and, therefore, we will not update, for a few days. We will soon be up to date again. We apologize for the inconvenience,” says the website.

The rapid expansion of capacities in cemeteries, the shortage of hearses and the data provided by so many Cubans on dead relatives or acquaintances all gives an idea that the death figures should be higher than those officially reported.

The way of counting deaths from coronavirus has been controversial in most countries of the world, since very different criteria have been followed. In Europe, where the first wave caught unexpectedly and overwhelmed the systems, each country counted in its own way: France only added those who died in hospitals, Spain did not include those who died in nursing homes without a test, Italy those who had negative PCR and Germany was late incorporating them based on the data set, among other examples. Added to this chaos was the testing shortage in March 2020.

However, little by little, most of these countries have brought the figures closer to reality, with the incorporation of tens of thousands of people in the official records some time later, and also using the statistics of excess mortality over previous years.

The comments of the Cuban Minister of Health suggest that the authorities have realized that they cannot maintain an optimistic discourse when images multiply — even in the official provincial press — of collapsed hospitals and cemeteries.


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