Success of Cuba’s fight against Coronavirus
ON January 1, 2021, Cuban revolution completed 62 years. The socialist revolution carried out by a group of highly motivated individuals under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara among numerous others in this small island nation in the Caribbean Sea in 1959 has since attempted to create an egalitarian society with a high standard of living for all its citizens sans exploitation. In the last six decades, it has survived continued imperialist assaults and built strong solidarity among its citizens. This strong social solidarity built through shared resources and political power disallows individual greed and built a sense of collective survival. The Cuban revolution and its heroes have inspired various revolutionary forces in Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries of Latin America, Africa and in other parts of the world through their incessant commitment to socialist values and internationalism. Today, the entire world is going through an unprecedented crisis in the form of COVID-19 pandemic which has left even the most advanced capitalist countries struggling to get past it. At such a time, Cuba’s success against the pandemic must be credited to its unwavering commitment to its revolutionary values of socialism, scientific temper and international solidarity.
Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the world’s capitalist system and broken some myths. Most of the advanced, so-called first world countries have failed to preserve human life during the pandemic and continued with their usual practice of prioritising profit over people. By contrast, socialist countries and governments have proven once again that they care about people and their wellbeing over anything else. Cuba, a small country with less than 12 million people, has established, in more than one way, standard of a successful fight against COVID-19. It did not only control its spread and provided free public health care to all but also took care of economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. It has also emerged as a world leader in providing aid to other members of the world community and helping them in their fight against the virus.
The success of Cuba’s fight against COVID-19 lies in its commitment to socialist values and scientific temper. The twin approach of considering universal public healthcare as a fundamental right for all members of the society with total trust in modern medical science in dealing with the disease has made Cuba a role model for the world to imitate. Its commitment to internationalism has proven to be contrasting and better approach than the narrow nationalistic approaches adopted by most of the developed capitalist countries who, unlike Cuba, have failed on every front and caused misery to their citizens.
EARLY RESPONSE AND INFORMATION
Cuba’s success against COVID-19 is based on the fact that it was one of the first countries to respond to the WHO warnings and follow its guidelines with all seriousness. The early response included gathering and disseminating crucial information, acting on the preventive measures and developing a crisis response mechanism much before the actual outbreak. Cuba did all of it at the correct moment due to the socialist commitments to prioritise people over profits.
At a time when no one was talking about it, Cuban media was already reporting about the Coronavirus in the middle of January, a few weeks after it was first reported to the WHO by China. Its Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) convened a national-level meeting on January 24 on novel coronavirus and created a National Working Group to keep a vigil and lead the fight against the virus. Immediately after that, the MINSAP started training doctors (95,000) and nurses (84,000) of how to diagnose and treat COVID-19. This was much before the first reported case in the country.
Cuban media and mass organizations started disseminating all crucial information about the disease and ways of its prevention including the necessity of hygiene to people early in March. The MINSAP also declared a strict vigilance on all ports of entry tacking people with known symptoms of COVID-19.
The country reported the first case on March 10 when some foreign tourists were found positive. It had already set up a strong system in place to face any outbreak. Thousands of medical students in Cuba’s 13 medical schools joined a campaign to visit every house in the country identifying people with symptoms and reporting the cases to nearby doctors in the mid-March. The medical students covered six million people, half of the country’s population, within a week.
EXTENSIVE LOCKDOWN MEASURES WITH ADEQUATE COMPENSATION FOR ALL WORKING CLASSES
When Cuba finally decided to impose WHO mandated physical distancing norms on March 20 after the number of cases had risen to 21, the government made sure that all WHO norms are strictly followed. It had to face the economic impact of around 60,000 foreign tourists leaving the country in the wake of the pandemic compounding its economic troubles.
It imposed strict physical distancing norms and restrictions on the businesses and movements of the people. However, the government made sure that no one who has lost his/her job is left without help. Apart from suspending private business from paying taxes, the government paid all workers furloughed due to the lockdown their full salary for the first month and 60 per cent salaries for subsequent months. All workers in the private sector affected by the lockdown were given an amount equivalent to national minimum wages for the period of the lockdown.
The socialist government of Cuba made sure that no one goes hungry. Through its extensive network of neighbourhood stores, it served more than 3.9 million families with a food basket comprising of vegetables, rice, cooking oil, eggs and sugar.
On April 6 onwards when the number of cases started rising and reached 396 the government imposed stricter lockdown measures with the suspension of all non-essential economic activities. It mandated self-quarantine for all vulnerable sections of the population including the old and people with serious ailments. It also suspended the payments for water, electricity and gas services until the further notice in a big relief for the working people who had no substantial income to pay for these essential services due to the shut down of the economic activities.
THE ROLE OF THE MASS ORGANIZATIONS
Cuba’s response to COVID-19 pandemic was quick and effective. It has been able to control the spread of the virus and reduce the total number of deaths. In a country of more than 11 million, the total number of cases has not exceeded 13,000 and the death rate is one of the lowest in the world with a total number of 147 until the first week of January, 2021. A large part of the credit for this success goes to the crucial role played by different mass organizations affiliated to the ideas of the Cuban revolution.
The public action carried out by organisations such as the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) with eight million estimated members along with the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and Federation of University Students (FEU) played crucial roles in spreading information, maintaining a constant supply of food and other essential items to remote parts of the country and helped the state agencies in executing lockdown measures. The role of thousands of medical students in identifying the infected quite early from their house-to-house surveys was crucial to check the spread of the virus in the country. These voluntary mass public actions created a community of mutually caring individuals which is impossible to achieve in a non-socialist country.
Cuba was one of the first countries to help provide the required medicine to China and several other countries. By February 24 it had provided 150,000 double dose vials of Interferon Alpha 2B to China alone. Several other countries were supplied the drug found to be effective in raising the immunity of the patients. But that was just a small part of country’s commitment to internationalism. Group of Cuban doctors, formally known as Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade formed in 2005, has defied the geographical and political boundaries during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided crucial medical assistance to more than two dozen countries as they have done before during the outbreak of Ebola and other disasters. The countries which received crucial medical assistance from the thousands of Cuban doctors and medical staff at a time when most of the capitalist countries were unable to even think of helping others range from Italy in Europe to Barbados in the West Indies. The Cuban doctors trained the medical staff in these countries and prepared them in ways of dealing with the pandemic.
Despite these efforts, Cuban doctors have faced vilification by the US instead of getting applause and recognition for their unparalleled work. This has prompted several rights groups and progressive individuals for starting a campaign for Noble Price of Cuban Doctors.
During the one iconic moment of Cuba’s commitment to international solidarity and humanity was seen in the mid-March when it allowed a British cruise ship M S Braemar with 682 passengers stranded in the Caribbean, after several countries refused to host it following the news of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic on board. Despite the significant public health risks, Cuba allowed the passengers including the infected to deboard and later transferred them to the UK.
In an official statement issued by the Foreign Ministry of Cuba after it decided to allow the ship to dock on its port, the government said it had decided to allow the ship to dock, “due to the urgency of the situation and the risk to the lives of sick people.” The statement further reads, “these are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice of the Cuban Revolution and our people.”
Defying the American sanctions and its commitment to science, Cuba has registered four vaccines candidates, namely “sovereign” or Soberana 01 which was announced in August and it was the first vaccine registered in Latin America and the Caribbean, Soberana 02, Mambisa and Abdala. All of these vaccine candidates are at different levels of human clinical trials and are expected to be available for the public by February 2021.
As per the announcement made by the Cuban government, the vaccines developed in Cuba will not be treated as private property or a source to make a profit as most of the other vaccines developed all across the world and will be available for the world as and when it is ready.
Above is the short description of the pro-people measures undertaken by the small socialist government in Cuba. Other socialist countries such as China and Vietnam and socialist government in the Indian state of Kerala have too adopted similar ways and successfully fought against the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, people in the world’s rich capitalist countries are forced to suffer an ineffective and inhuman system.