The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.
“There are 1,000-plus cases” in the southeastern province of Granma, said Yoandris Montoya, who lives in Bayamo, the provincial capital. Security agents have locked down the city’s hospital, he added, but staff told him the situation inside is “chaotic.”
Santiago Marquez, a physician in the neighboring town of Manzanillo, said there is “a lot of panic” in the region because of the lack of official information about the intestinal disease.
Cuba’s Public Health Ministry, which rarely makes public any information that could give the island a negative image, declared Tuesday it had “controlled” an outbreak of cholera that had killed three people and affected 50 others in Granma province. But unofficial reports from the region Friday indicated the disease was continuing to spread, with hundreds more suspected cases jamming hospitals in Manzanillo and Bayamo. Montoya said more cases were reported in nearby Niquero and Pilón.Cuba is, of course, the home of the exemplary health care system featured in Michael Moore's 2007 movie Sicko, in which he famously took several ailing 9-11 relief workers to the island paradise for medical treatment. At the time, the Communist newspaper Worker's World described the stunt in glowing terms:
In “Sicko,” Moore takes a number of 9/11 relief workers to Cuba to receive health care. These workers have suffered from a number of severe respiratory and other problems without U.S. government support for their needs.
The boats first traveled to Guantánamo Bay—where, despite a systematic pattern of detainee torture that has received worldwide condemnation, the U.S. claims its prisoners receive high-end health care. After being denied services there, the group ends up at Havana’s central hospital.
In an article entitled “’Sicko’ Stars Thank Moore for Cuba Trip,” the May 19 Associated Press reports: “There, the film shows the group getting thorough care from kind doctors. They don’t have to fill out any long forms; health care is free in the Communist nation, after all.” The group received medical tests and services to deal with conditions ranging from reflux problems to eye and nose infections and dental problems.
Salon.com states, “The pathos of the story makes [Moore’s] point for him. A poor Caribbean island, whatever its ideology, can afford health care for everyone while we do not. The only possible conclusion is that our society has chosen not to.”
This conclusion is all the more startling given the history of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Despite [the blockade], Cuba has continued to offer free, comprehensive health care to all its citizens. In addition, since 1963 Cuba has exported its exemplary health care services around the world, sending doctors and its own technological advancements in medicine to countries throughout Latin America and Africa.
Cuba provided medical support after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan. When Hurricane Katrina coupled with U.S. government negligence to ravage the lives of the people of the U.S. Gulf Coast, Cuba immediately offered its assistance—an offer that was arrogantly and callously rejected by the Bush administration.Cholera is a bacterial infection caused primarily by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. It is almost non-existent in the developed world as a result of effective sanitation and drinking water treatment; the last major outbreak in the US was in 1911. One has to wonder how this could happen in a country that is held up as a paragon of government-run universal health care, although I'm sure that somehow the US blockade will be blamed. It's a lot easier for some people than concluding that a dysfunctional political and economic system that can't treat its sewage and water is responsible.
I wonder if Michael Moore would visit Havana's central hospital now? Canadians who love to vacation in the Communist Utopia should probably get their shots first.