Cuba: A Lesson in Crisis Management

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Date: Apr 22, 2020

Author: Antonio Saadipour Sellés

Practically every country around the world is experiencing a crisis the likes of which none of us has ever really known. The pandemic has put world leaders to the test, and it seems that every day there’s a new barrage of articles detailing each country’s response to the coronavirus. Among them, Cuba stands out as a leading example of solidarity and a guiding light in extraordinary advances in medicine and public health. 

As of April 21, 788 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Cuba, with a total of 38 deaths. The crisis is especially precarious for Cubans when considering the detrimental economic effects of current U.S. policies relating to Cuba, which make the task of flattening the curve even more grueling. With tourism effectively shut down and a lack of local transportation, Cubans are left wondering how they will be able to access food and medicines, resources that are already scarce on the island. Currently, Cuba’s national water service is running every other day, so even the smallest preventative measures against COVID-19, such as washing your hands, are out of reach.

Despite these difficult circumstances, the Cuban people continue to prove their resilience. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, the island’s medical prowess is back in the spotlight. In China, where the virus originated and has been particularly deadly, the Chinese National Health Commission listed a Cuban anti-viral drug as an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients, prompting requests to the island from 45 countries. 

Cuba’s medical brigades program constituted the nation’s largest export, bringing in approximately $6 billion in revenue in 2018. Since the coronavirus outbreak, Cuban doctors have been deployed to at least 14 countries in need of medical assistance. The severity of the pandemic has pushed healthcare systems across the world to the point of collapse and Cuba is no exception. However, the island nation has had an advantage in deterring the spread of the virus because its universal healthcare system allowed it to focus its efforts on prevention rather than waiting for cases to surge to begin treatments. And its impressive ratio of 8.2 physicians per 1,000 inhabitants—almost three times that of the U.S. and the highest in the world—is indispensable in the country’s fight against the virus.

Cuba, aside from this crisis, has been hit hard by sanctions and shortages, and rather than extend a helping hand, the U.S. government is actively encouraging other countries not to welcome Cuban doctors for coronavirus treatment. In early April, Carlos M. Pereira, Cuba’s ambassador to China, reported that a shipment of coronavirus aid from Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, was blocked by the U.S. embargo on the island. The shipment contained 100,000 facemasks and 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits, as well as other aid including ventilators and gloves. As such, Cuba’s growing private sector has teamed up with the state to deliver life-saving aid. Restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are donating free food while fashion brands manufacture facemasks for vulnerable groups–the poor and the elderly–as means to combat this invisible enemy. Tourism on the island generates approximately $3 billion a year in revenue, so a dramatic decrease in tourism will sharply affect Cuba’s fledgling private sector during this pandemic. 

Now, even more than ever, is not the time for punitive U.S. sanctions. Instead, the U.S. must “issue a time-bound suspension of sanctions on Cuba to facilitate the flow of desperately needed humanitarian and medical supplies to the Cuban people as they cope with the global COVID-19 pandemic.” We’re all in this together, and that means that Cuba shouldn’t be excluded from international support.