The blockade against Cuba imposed by the United States affects the island's health system as well as its renowned missions across the world, according to activists and health experts.
The revelation comes as Cubans and solidarity activists from different organizations are demanding the end of the U.S. blockade in a series of events in Washington, D.C. as part of the third "Days of Action Against the Blockade."
Leima Martinez, head of the North American Division of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, ICAP, says the work they've done to raise awareness about the economic blockade this year has focused on the hardships of medicine access, both in Cuba and the United States.
“Health is the most sensitive issue for our population,” Martinez told teleSUR.
"Our doctors, our institutions are searching for other ways, other markets, other friends, even in the U.S., despite the prohibition of Cuba to directly buy medicines that are exclusive and only produced in the United States," she added. "They manage to get them into Cuba in the most creative ways to avoid the blockade.”
Martinez said Cubans fight every day to find alternatives to restrictions in an attempt to maintain the country's health system, recognized as "excellent" by the World Health Organization, which also offers the U.S. population medicines that are only produced in Cuba.
For Martinez, “there’s a financial persecution" against Cuba and its medical services.
She says that the blockade is not just a bilateral issue and that it affects Cuban humanitarian missions in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, especially as they experience hardships during their fights against diseases like Ebola or natural disasters like hurricanes.
"And that is the essence of the Cuban health system: the most important thing is to save a children’s life, an old man, a mother,” Martinez said.
“As long as we explain our reality, as long as we present the data of how the blockade is affecting us, I believe a lot more people will join this campaign to lift the blockade.”
For Jesus Reno, from the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology in Cuba, Cubans have been able to fight the blockade and become a leading nation in health services.
Cuba’s Medical Revolution
“Despite the blockade, we have grown as a country,” Reno told teleSUR.
Reno, who has been working for 30 years in providing diagnosis and treatment, says the restrictions have further blocked Cuba from maintaining its own equipment since the components are manufactured in the United States.
“This means that Cuban health professionals are always training and preparing in the technological field," Reno said. "And we have found ways to give service to our people, and other peoples of the world who need it.”
According to Reno, many people now visit Cuba for health treatments, which is more affordable and revolutionary in several fields, including cancer treatments.
“We’ve been able to take our knowledge, without any interests, to all countries that need it,” Reno said.
Reno says it's imperative for the U.S. government to suspend these sanctions and to engage in a normal exchange with Cuba because both nations have come closer together, despite adversities, since the Cuban Revolution.
“We are united more than ever, and we feel it,” Reno said.
"For us, it’s important to put forward the work of the Revolution in the serum of the United States," Reno said. "To add to the history of all others who came here before us and continue our struggle.”
As part of the campaign, graduates from Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, ELAM, have also joined the cause.
Some 170 doctors, nurses and technicians have studied for free and graduated from the school. The school only requires that graduates work in poor communities. About 80 are still studying in Cuba.
David Lavender, a U.S. citizen who recently graduated from ELAM, told teleSUR that his experience in Cuba has changed his perspective on the health system in both countries.
He is expected to address members of the U.S. Congress later this year to demand that the government take actions that are beneficial for both Washington and Havana. Lavender, 37, says that after returning to his country, he still can't afford health insurance.
“I’m one of those people who have been hurt and if somebody says ‘you want to call an ambulance?’ they say 'i don’t think i can afford it, let me wait a day or two and see if I can heal on my own.'"
In Cuba, Lavender said, people are not afraid of going to the hospital. They proactively visit medical centers to prevent diseases and doctors proactively visit people's houses, showing an investment in primary care and rejecting business that only demand profits, according to Lavender.
He says the majority of people in the United States want universal health care and an end to the blockade.
"We need to get the people that are neutral to become more positive, to become more interested in Cuba and a little bit more aware of what's going on," Lavender said. "We need to take people who are already supporters and we need to really get them to be more active.”
The International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity to the Peoples organized the campaign aimed at lifting the blockade, ending the travel ban and returning Guantanamo to Cuba.