Digital pharmacy? Cubans’ option in the face of medicine shortages

Digital pharmacy? Cubans’ option in the face of medicine shortages

Published on 27 Oct 2023

Finding medicines in Cuba is not an easy task.

While the Díaz-Canel regime claims that the U.S. economic embargo is to blame for the shortage of medicines, the population sees in social networks an option to find medicines in a black market that is growing every day with exorbitant prices.

Facebook groups are preferred for the purchase or exchange of medicines. While some of the groups were created for bartering, others openly promote medicines for sale.

The problem of shortages: what does the regime say?

According to Eduardo Martínez Díaz, president of the business group BioCubaFarma (responsible for 61% of the medicines in the basic list), the causes for the lack of raw materials and materials for the production of medicines are external.

“There are problems for the payment to suppliers, due to the banks’ refusal to work with Cuba,” said the executive during his intervention in the sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

Martínez complained that the usual suppliers have stopped supplying due to actions that he attributed “to the embargo and the existence of world deficit of some raw materials and materials for pharmaceutical use” for production that cause 94% of the shortages at present.

The state-owned company BioFarmaCuba acknowledged in July that there are 251 medicines in shortage, both manufactured in the country and imported, which represents 40% of the basic list.

Referring to the current situation with imports, Cristina Lara, director of Medicines and Medical Technologies of MINSAP, said that some 244 drugs are imported with financing from the National Health System, in addition to a group of reagents, consumables, medical supplies and equipment.

As for the shortages, he acknowledged that, if they are added to those of national production, the deficit reaches 44%, but if low coverage is added (those drugs that have been in the system for less than 30 days), it amounts to 74% of the general basic list.

In view of this devastating panorama, the official recommended “reviewing the possibilities of reusable supplies”, resorting to “program measures for the efficient use of resources”, and encouraging the use of pseudo-scientific natural and traditional medicine “as another therapeutic option for people”.

What Cubans feel

Last July, the Cubadata project, through an Integral Health Survey, shed light and quantified a drama that has great resonance in social networks.

In general, 96.2% of Cubans consulted report having experienced some physical illness and 92.7% some emotional disorder in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The study showed that there is a clear trend towards greater difficulty in accessing medicines. More than half of the respondents (55.8%) rated access to medicines as “impossible”.

If the results of the “very difficult” and “impossible” categories are added together, 80.3% of the surveyed population faces serious problems in obtaining medicines.

Digital black market

The drug crisis is exacerbated by inflation, as many Cubans have to turn to the black market to get what they cannot find in pharmacies and state hospitals.

This black market for medicines has found its space in networks. Hundreds of Facebook groups are dedicated to the sale or barter of medicines on the island, their activity with more than 10 publications a day and thousands of members is a sign of the seriousness of the situation.

Basic medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, hypertensives, antibiotics, vitamins and even crutches or medical equipment are offered in a black market that is growing every day.

A report by Diario de Cuba points out that in Camagüey, a city located in central-eastern Cuba, a blister pack of clonazepam costs 900 pesos ($37), a bottle of ibuprofen 1,600 pesos ($66), and antibiotics such as azithromycin, cephalexin and amoxicillin cost between 500 and 1,000 pesos ($20 to $40).

Embargo is not the problem

Despite blaming the embargo, public figures from the U.S. Government have been busy denying the Havana regime, indicating that exports of health products from the North American country to Cuba have been uninterrupted since 2003.

From 2003 to date, purchases of medical supplies have exceeded $37 million in the United States, with 2022 being the year with the highest sales recorded (more than $9 million), according to a report by the Cuba-U.S. Economic and Trade Council.

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