The Four Plagues of Santiago de Cuba

For hours, in the doorways and in the sunlight, the mothers are dedicated to the manual eradication of the lice that invade the hair of their family members. (El Mundo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, 25 October 2021 — Covid-19 is not the only epidemic suffered by the city of Santiago de Cuba. Dengue fever numbers have risen so much that not even the official press can hide them. This Saturday, the Sierra Maestra newspaper reported that there is a “wide transmission of dengue in three of the nine municipalities” in the eastern city. Most of the cases are concentrated in the provincial capital and in the municipalities of Palma, San Luis and Contramaestre.

One of these cases is Antonio, a 22-year-old primary school teacher. “Last week I started to feel bad, I had a fever all day and I ended up in the Provincial Hospital, I was scared and thought I had coronavirus. I was diagnosed with dengue, which luckily was not hemorrhagic.”

The young man was ordered to remain at home for seven days. “The problem is that they prescribed polyvitamins, such as Polivit, also folic acid and a lot of liquids, especially lemon and citric juices in general.” Antonio calls it a problem because, in effect, a pound of lemons costs 40 pesos and polyvitamins are missing from pharmacies. “The only thing I could get was folic acid, and I found it on the black market: at 150 pesos for a blister pack of 10 pills.”

The situation in Santiago de Cuba is mainly due to the lack of resources against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but also to its increase in trash containers and standing water, which, in addition, also affects the other two illnesses on the list of plagues suffered by the city: scabies and lice.

“Everyone in my house is suffering the same,” says Maritza, a 47-year-old housewife from Santiago, speaking about the itching suffered by her and the nine members of her family, which is unbearable at night, with the heat. “When we went to the doctor they told us that it was scabies, but that there was no medication in the pharmacies.”

Scabies is not deadly like covid, or, as it is in some cases, like dengue hemorrhagic fever, but it is very annoying.

Those who are worse off, says Maritza while scratching her right arm, are two children and two older adults, “who despair of the itch.” Their doctor prescribed benzyl benzoate, even though the medicine is nowhere to be found.

Thus, they have had to resort to alternative solutions. “We have bathed with lots of leaves, including guava, isora, plum and nothing has worked.” Nothing except a remedy a vet gave them: an anti-parasitic used on animals. “A a little vial of about 10 milliliters cost us 50 pesos and this is what we have to resolve it.”

With the contents of the vial dissolved in a bullet of water (a liter and a half bottle), the family throws a small capful into the bucket of water with which they are going to bathe. “The children have almost lost their itchiness and I have improved a lot.”

Maritza has already shared more than half the bottle in her neighborhood: “On the block, most of the neighbors had the same.”

Juana, for her part, is mortified by lice. She was infected while painting nails. Offering this type of service helps to support this woman who is a dentist by profession, during the difficult economic situation.

“I work twice a week in the emergency room, the rest of the time I spend fixing nails.” How, did she imagine, she got head lice. “After a second infection, I now protect my head by wearing a nylon bag when I have a client.”

The treatment, she regrets, is very expensive. Permethrin, which is also used against scabies, is missing from state pharmacies, and on the black market prices are through the roof. “These days, 1 milliliter of permethrin (less than a tablespoon) costs 20 pesos, and for a complete cycle I need at least 6 milliliters.” To this she adds shampoo, softener and other hair products, which means that the treatment, in total, exceeds 1,000 pesos, a good part of her monthly salary.

In the absence of products to combat the undesirable plague, the people of Santiago choose to detect the nits and extract them, in the old way, a task that not only requires good eyesight and a fine-toothed comb but also patience. For hours, in the doorways and in the sunlight, the mothers are dedicated to the manual eradication of the lice that invade the hair of their family members.


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