Cuba’s Secrets in Fighting COVID-19 

By Ángel Guerra Cabrera On May 29, 2020

Cuban doctors going door to door, Foto: Ricardo López Hevia

Cuba has several medications unique in the world in terms of their effectiveness in promoting the survival of COVID-19 patients in serious and critical condition.  While, world-wide, only about 20% of patients in these categories can be saved, in Cuba approximately 50% of these patients survive. In terms of the death rate among all those with this illness, Cuba has a rate of 4.2%, less than the 11.5% of Spain, the 5.9% of the United States, and the 5.5% of Ireland.  With 82 deaths to date, Cuba has had periods of several days without deaths, or with only one per day at the most. Cuba’s COVID-19 death rate is 0.72 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is one of the lowest in the world.  Up until May 27, only 5 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have been able to report recovery among more than 50% of their known cases: Cuba, with 78.4%; Uruguay, with 75.5%; Mexico, with 66.7%; Panama, with 65.6%; and Costa Rica with 64.3%.

The pharmaceuticals with which Cuba is combating COVID with existed prior to the rise of the epidemic and were used to treat both viral illnesses and other conditions such as arthritis and psoriasis; they were not designed specifically for this use.  But they have the fundamental ability to fortify the immune system, to promote what is called non-specific or innate immunity, and this provides a barrier, shielding the respiratory system from entry of the new coronavirus.  These meds have other qualities that have helped to prevent death in the majority of Cuban COVID patients in serious and critical condition.  In the case of Human Recombinant Interferon alfa 2B there are nine countries that utilize it, among them China and Spain.  Nevertheless, hospitals in the United States have no access to this or to any other Cuban medication, due to the U.S. blockade of Cuba.  Helen Yaffe, a Latin America research specialist at the University of Glasgow and author of the book We Are Cuba, says, “Desperate doctors from hospitals in New York have called me to ask how they can get Interferon alfa 2B.”  She adds that it is not possible.

In addition to Interferon Alfa2B, Cuba has available CIGB 258, developed by the Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología (Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and  Itolizumab, developed by the Centro de Inmunoensayo (Center for Immunoassay).  A request for the use of both these drugs in patients in serious and critical condition with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 was presented to the Centro  Estatal para el Control de los Medicamentos, Equipos y Dispositivos Médicos (Cecmed), (The State Center for Control of Medications, Medical Equipment and Devices) and their use was approved.

These pharmaceuticals have been very effective in treating the well-known “cytokine storm,” with an obvious favorable reaction within 72 hours for most patients.  These medications, together with others, make up part of the “cocktail” of drugs used to treat those who have been infected with COVID.  Sublingual homeopathic drops, called PrevengHo Vir, have been used for the whole population as a preventive measure, and patients who are known or suspected to have increased risk factors are also given Biomodulina T; both these medications reinforce the immune system.  But these facts do not, by themselves, explain the huge success that Cuba has achieved in confronting this illness. These medications exist because decades ago Fidel Castro, with great vision and foresight, promoted the creation of a true system of research centers, dedicating innumerable hours to this task and inspiring them to achieve ambitious goals.

I am referring not only to biomedical research, although this certainly leads the way in combating COVID, but also to the mathematicians and specialists in information science and social science who have also taken part in this.

Cuba foresaw the need for a careful and detailed plan for combating COVID-19, beginning in January, with active participation of the scientific community and of the research centers as well as by the Ministry of Public Health and other agencies, and has followed a very aggressive policy for containing the pathogen.  Thousands of family practice doctors and students of medicine and dentistry daily make rounds to tens of thousands of homes to do epidemiological surveillance.  We have not waited for those who are infected to present themselves, we have gone in search of them, and have established rigorous standards of isolation for the sick and of observation for those with mild cases of illness.  Enough beds and equipment have been provided for patients with suspected illness, for those who have uncomplicated illness, and those with severe cases.  The stay-at-home measures and the social distancing, the zone, municipal, and province  quarantines – all these have allowed us to break the chain of infection so that the hospitals are not overwhelmed with the number of sick people.

In spite of the suffocating criminal blockade of Cuba, currently intensified to the point of madness, carried out by the United States, Cuba has a robust system of totally free universal health care: primary care in the neighborhoods, multi-specialty clinics, general and tertiary-care specialist hospitals, all with the support of an organized, self-disciplined, aware populace.

Today, the country from which Washington stripped thousands of doctors after the revolution has the highest ratio of physicians to population in the world.  And, in addition, has been able to send medical personnel to 24 countries to combat this pandemic.  To be continued.

Source: La Pubila Insomne, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau