Through global solidarity, Cuba shows an alternative to the great pharmaceutical hegemony

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In another success story from Cuba, the country fully vaccinated more than 85% of its population and another 7% received their single dose. This is more than most other developed countries, including the United States. And this despite the six decades of trade embargo imposed by the US on the small developing country.

Children under five were also vaccinated in Cuba, while major pharmaceutical companies around the world are still developing vaccines for this age group. The vaccination campaign in Cuba includes children aged 2-18 years.

While highly developed countries like those of the European Union, the UK, and the US have only been able to fully vaccinate around 60-70% of their populations.

Cuba was able to vaccinate its population with the help of indigenous vaccines. She has successfully developed five domestic vaccines, of which Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus have been approved and used for vaccination. Two more – Soberana 01 and Mambisa – are still in clinical trials and have yet to be approved. A Advantage of these vaccines is that they are based on traditional protein subunit technology, which makes them easy to use. It can be stored in the refrigerator or even at room temperature and given to children.

At the Finlay Institute, a clinical study for Soberana Plus as a booster dose continues with 35 volunteers from Italy who were previously vaccinated in Europe. Cuban scientists are also working on the first prototype of Soberana Plus as an effective vaccine against the Omicron variant.

Share vaccines and technology

Not only has Cuba managed to vaccinate most of its population, including children, but it has also started sending these vaccines to other countries that have approved them. Venezuela, Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua as well as Argentina and Mexico have also expressed an interest in the approval of Cuban vaccines. Recently, Mexico approved the use of the Cuban Abdala vaccine.

This despite the trade sanctions and embargoes that the US has imposed on Cuba since the 1960s. These sanctions have left Cuba financially and politically vulnerable, where few allies and supporting countries make deals with Cuba. Last, During his tenure as President, Trump signed more than two hundred directives that attacked the Cuban economy. For the past 29 years, since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution every year calling for an end to the US economic embargo on Cuba. The US and Israel have consistently voted against.

As reported by Oxfam, The US sanctions not only crippled the Cuban economy and hit people, but also affected the raw materials used to develop vaccines and diagnostics. So far, few countries have approved the Cuban vaccine, although researchers have indicated that these vaccines are 90% effective.

Not only has Cuba made vaccines available to these countries for immediate administration, it has also provided them with technology to manufacture these vaccines in their regions. The vaccines are made by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology or CIGB (Abdala) and the Finlay Institute (Soberana 02), research institutes set up and operated by the government. While Venezuela and Vietnam have already started administering the Cuban vaccines, Syria also spoke to Cuban officials to strengthen health cooperation. In March, Cuba sent 100,000 doses of its Soberana 02 vaccine to Iran, and both Iran and Nigeria have agreed to work with the country to develop their home-grown vaccines.

End-to-end technology transfer means that the country receiving the technology can set up a domestic manufacturing facility and replicate production of the vaccine from start to finish. This helps to build up the production capacities of the host country.

This is in sharp contrast to the large pharmaceutical companies that are based in developed countries and have refused to share the technical know-how. Most rich, developed countries have also spoken out against the TRIPS waiv proposal, which calls for the non-enforcement of patents on essential drugs, vaccines and medical devices in times of the pandemic. Even after 15 months, the proposal is still being negotiated, with the countries in Europe and the big pharma lobby holding it back.

Support other countries – set an example during the pandemic and at other times

The successful vaccination campaign in Cuba is based on a well-developed, state-owned biopharmaceutical industry. It competently covers the domestic demand for pharmaceuticals and medical products and keeps them affordable and accessible for all segments of the population. This supports the robust public health system that Cuba has built for the people over the years.

Cuba has also become a major exporter of biopharmaceutical products worldwide, providing doctors with support to countries in need. Cuba has responded to the COVID-19 crisis in an exemplary manner – not only at home, but also for other countries.

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, while the world panicked and countries introduced self-preservation policies, Cuba sent teams of doctors to other countries. It helped people fight the spread of the coronavirus. In the early days of the 2020 pandemic, medical teams were deployed to the Italian regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. In March 2020, teams were also sent to Andorra, a small country between France and Spain struggling with a collapsing healthcare system.

In March 2020, a relatively small town of Crema in Lombardy, Italy, faced a health crisis amid a spate of cases and overstretched health facilities. after a detailed report, Mayor Stefania Bonaldi had alerted national and international authorities and asked for help. Soon 52 Cuban medical professionals arrived in Crema.

Bonaldi said that “their sense of humanity has overwhelmed us” and they showed “a special sensitivity and attention that characterize the way they look at the world”. Crema witnessed a door-to-door system of care where “the relationship between doctors and their patients is much closer”. The report explains how the Italian health system is controlled on a regional basis, with each region being somewhat independent in the decision-making process. Lombardy, which has invested in healthcare privatization over the past decade, now has fewer public hospitals.

And this is not the first time Cuba has been at the forefront of responding to health and humanitarian crises around the world. Be it that Earthquakes in Indonesia and Pakistan, a cholera outbreak in Haiti or the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Cuba was there to help the people and the governments. Cuban medical personnel have served in various countries including Guatemala, Ethiopia, East Timor, Ghana, Brazil, and Tanzania.

The Cuban model clearly shows the importance of building a strong public health system and developing the biopharmaceutical industry and public sector research institutes. The Cuban model offers an alternative framework – putting people before profit. In contrast, Big Pharma has given priority to patent monopolies and profiteering, despite global demands from WHO and others, supported by governments in rich countries. The Mayor of Crema said after the experience of working with Cubans during the pandemic, “I believe this should make us think that health care should be at least largely public.”


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