U.S. Blockade’s Most Inhuman Side

Cuban and even American patients with oncological conditions suffer the cruelty of the economic, commercial and financial siege imposed on the Caribbean nation

Enrique Ojito

US blocklade's most inhuman side. Illustration by MARTIRENA
Illustration by MARTIRENA.

I wonder if Mick Phillips is still alive. This man from Wisconsin, U.S.A., was diagnosed with lung cancer, received radiation and chemotherapy treatment in his country, and his prognosis for survival was almost cero. In 2016, The New York Times and the CBS News reported that Phillips had survived for five years after being treated with the Cuban CIMAvax-EGF therapeutic vaccine. However, in order to get the vaccine, he had to travel to Havana via a third nation. The U.S. blockade prevented him from traveling to Cuba or importing the drug.

Several months ago, a Cubadebate.cu headline called my attention: “Mother of a child with cancer: U.S. blockade against Cuba is criminal”. The photo accompanying the press release revealed the pain of Mayelín Jiménez, whose immunosuppressed son had been hospitalized for over a year in Havana’s Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR, in Spanish). The boy needed examinations and treatments that were hampered by the hostile policy.

These are just two examples that confirm the inhuman scope of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade which between April 2018 and March 2019 affected health services in Cuba with damages amounting to USD 104,148,178. This figure is included in the report that Cuba will present to the United Nations General Assembly in a few days.

It will be enough to take a look at the document to find out how much anguish the Donald Trump’s administration has caused to the families in the island, cancer patients in particular. According to the local Statistical Yearbook of Health, last year cancer was the first cause of death in Sancti Spiritus, central Cuban province, with 226.7 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants.

But there are other evidences just as paralyzing. The importing and exporting company of medical products, MEDICuba S.A., contacted 57 companies in the U.S.A. for health supplies, some of which would be used in the cancer control national program. Most of those companies never replied while three claimed that they could not commercialize any medicine with Cuba due to the blockade restrictions.

As the Cuban authorities have warned, the echoes of the blockade exceed the borders of the island and the United States. In November 2018, the German Company Isotrak USA Eckert & Ziegler Reference & Calibration refused to provide an initially contracted radioactive source, essential in the quality control of radionucleotides in the diagnosis of cancer. The European company said it was not willing to negotiate with our country due to the aforementioned U.S. ban.

Because of the destructive strategy imposed on the island, patients diagnosed with central nervous system tumors cannot receive the benefits of Temozolamide, the first line of chemotherapeutic treatment for malignant brain tumors. Despite that, children with this type of condition are treated with Nimotuzumab, a monoclonal antibody produced in Cuba.

Such alternative has led to an increase in survival of approximately 49-50 percent in the patients studied during the last five years, said to Xinhua experts from INOR in 2018. However, the reality says that with the Temozolamide treatment, the survival of children with high-grade central nervous system tumors is higher.

It hurts to know that there has been no other option but to amputate the lower or upper limbs of children because of the refusal of the U.S. Company Stryker to sell extensible endoprosthesis to Cuba.

This painful truth is undoubtedly the most unpleasant side of the U.S. blockade, a policy committed to make the Revolution raise the white flag and which American Mick Phillips continues to challenge. Before putting an end to this report, I must say that Phillips’s oncologist in Havana, Dr. Rubén Elzaurdin, told me on Facebook that the man is still alive.

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