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Activists land in Cuba with emergency medicine delivery

Reprinted from ANSWER Coalition
Aug. 28, 2022

First shipment of aid for Matanzas
Dr. Leni Villagómez Reeves, left, Gloria La Riva, Hatuey coordinator, center, Susana Llovet, Cuban Red Cross, second from right

On Friday, August 26, activists with the Hatuey Project and ANSWER Coalition successfully delivered a shipment of medicines and equipment to help in the treatment of the people who suffered serious burns in the massive Supertanker oil fire in Matanzas, Cuba. Four tanks carrying millions of gallons of fuel were consumed by flames after a lightning strike, starting August 5. Hundreds of people were burned. Tragically, 14 firefighters died fighting the fire.

As soon as the giant fire became news, ANSWER and the Hatuey Project issued an emergency appeal for donations, together with other solidarity organizations anxious to extend material solidarity to Cuba. Venezuela and Mexico sent firefighters. Other countries have also offered substantial help. Dr. Nadia Marsh, a member of ANSWER, arrived in Cuba to join the delegation. Dr. Marsh and Dr. Villagómez Reeves provided the medical advice for the shipment and rallied colleagues to join the effort. Many supporters of ANSWER and Hatuey heard the call and donated to make this aid possible.

Arriving at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, Dr. Leni Villagómez Reeves and Gloria La Riva were met by officials of the Cuban Red Cross, the Ministry of Health, Medicuba and the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, to receive the shipment. The Cuban Red Cross is the official recipient to work in the immediate distribution of the goods for the burn patients.

Among the medicines and equipment are 360 bags of Lactated Ringer’s Injection solution, 750 IV administration sets, 600 20g IV needle/catheters, 600 18g IV needle/catheters, 110 vials of Piperacillin/tazobactam antibiotics, 6,000 pairs of surgical gloves, 4 pounds of Mafenid ointment for more complex burns, 150 tubes Bacitracin, burn gauzes and rolls. Part of an earlier donation of Benadryl and vitamins by Hatuey were also directed for those patients.

Dr. Daymí Martínez Naranjo, director of Faustino Pérez Hospital in Matanzas; Dr. Maximiliano Prieto Gutiérrez, first grade specialist plastic surgeon; chief nurse Yadarí Calzadilla Delgado; Gloria La Riva; Dr. Elena Robaina Rodríguez, hospital vice-director. Dr. Prieto and Nurse Calzadilla are heading the patients’ recovery efforts.

Susana Llovet, Vice Secretary General of the Cuban Red Cross, said at the airport, “We truly appreciate this help of the Hatuey Project, ANSWER Coalition and all those who mobilized and donated to make this possible. All these medications are going to help the Cuban people, especially those patients who suffered burns after the Supertanker fire.”

Weighing heavily on Cuba’s difficult recovery from the fire’s devastation, is the U.S. economic blockade of more than 60 years. Gloria La Riva, Hatuey Project coordinator, says that to bring prescription medications to Cuba, the U.S. government requires an export license from the Commerce Department. Otherwise such essential goods are prohibited.

“It is an extremely complicated process to apply and practically the whole U.S. government apparatus is involved. The State Department and Defense Department have to review and approve the license application.”

This of course has the effect of greatly slowing down or blocking material aid to Cuba. One of the biggest obstacles in Cuba’s ability to trade with the world or to receive humanitarian aid is the U.S. outrageous and unwarranted designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” 

Brian Becker, director of ANSWER, says, “There is absolutely no justification for the state sponsor label to be hung on Cuba. In fact, Cuba has been the victim of U.S.-sponsored, documented acts of terrorism since 1959. Such a false label severely hampers Cuba’s ability to provide for its people and we demand that this false designation be lifted immediately by the Biden administration, and for the blockade to end as well.”

As Dr. Villagómez Reeves stated so well, “For Hatuey Project, we are humbly trying to emulate the Cuban people’s example of solidarity and internationalism. We brought antibiotics and burn supplies of the most modern and wonderful variety. The reason that Cuba needs help is precisely because of the U.S. blockade that has been intensified during the COVID pandemic.”

Despite the obstacles, because of the emergency nature in Matanzas, Hatuey Project received the export license on August 24. The meds were on the ground in Cuba on the 26th.

During the initial hours of Dr. Nadia Marsh’s arrival in Havana, she interviewed several people about the impact of the U.S. blockade. One man, Yacen, a dialysis patient, spoke passionately about how the blockade makes receiving regular dialysis treatments a daily struggle because of the lack of reagents. He is on the list for a kidney transplant but said, “Since anti-rejection medications are needed for life, and they are produced in the U.S., they are not available. So transplants are suspended for now.” He commended the dedication and commitment of the Cuban doctors who have saved his life.

Visiting ICAP in Matanzas

[Note: This was posted by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples of Matanzas (ICAP) on Facebook]

With medical staff in Matanzas, presenting some of the medical aid

The Delegation of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) in Matanzas province received Gloria La Riva, member of the solidarity movement in US. She exchanged with the Director of the Provincial Clinical Surgical Hospital “Faustino Pérez”, as well as with doctors and nurses.

La Riva was interested in the care of patients who suffered burns in the accident of the industrial zone of Matanzas. She also learned about the effects of the blockade on Cuban health and reiterated the need to also put an end to the unjust measures and laws by the U.S. government. She toured the room that cares for injured patients with burns and brought a donation of medicines, mosquito nets and other materials sent bye IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

Later, she visited the area where the accident occured and where actions of cleaning, remodeling and construction are carrying out.

Hatuey Project Press Conference in Cuba

[Note: This was posted by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) on Facebook]

Gloria la Riva brings more love and solidarity
on her new visit to Cuba

Press conference at ICAP

Cuba’s great friend, the US activist Gloria la Riva, is among us again, this time as part of the HATUEY solidarity project (Health Advocates in Truth, Unity and Empathy) that brought to Cuba donations of valuable medicines for victims of the accident at supertanker base in Matanzas.

Through this project, two significant donations valued at more than 20 thousand dollars have reached our country. The initiative includes health providers and activists for social justice, concerned about the damage caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on the island.

HATUEY appeals to the good will of US and citizens of the world to help in any way possible, whether it be with monetary contributions or obtaining donations from pharmaceutical suppliers and medical personnel.

This health aid project was conceived in solidarity with the Cuban people and to achieve the acquisition of essential medicines and equipment for the health system.

Along with Gloria, Dr. Leni Villagomez Reeves, a HATUEY specialist, who has been part of the Pastors for Peace and provides medical advice, also traveled.

In a meeting with the national press, this Tuesday at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), both activists ratified that they will firmly continue the demand against the blockade on Cuba together with numerous groups and movements in solidarity in United States.

They also speak out strongly against the inclusion of the Caribbean nation on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. “Everyone knows that it is a cynical lie, established to harm the Revolution and the Cuban people,” Gloria emphasized.

In visits made to social and health care centers they have obtained more information about the needs of specific medicines and the HATUEY project will continue its work in this line, pointed out Dr. Leni.

ICAP journalists and workers reiterated their expressions of gratitude to these two great friends, excellent people and tireless activists for social justice, and both responded that gratitude “is ours to Cuba, for its example of dignity and resistance.”

Fernando González
📷 Orlando Perera

Watch video from the press conference here:

How Cuba treated me for COVID

by Cecilia Paz
reprinted from Liberation News
Sept. 1, 2022

[Note: although this article is dated Sept. 1, it describes the experiences of the author who was in Cuba in July, predating the Matanzas fire, as part of a delegation of activists delivering the first shipment of medicines to Cuba on behalf of the Hatuey Project.]

Cuban healthcare workers in Villa Clara

In late July, I traveled to Cuba as part of a delegation of anti-blockade activists delivering medicine. Three days into my trip, I tested positive for COVID-19. During my seven days in quarantine, I experienced Cuba’s deeply compassionate healthcare system and thorough COVID-19 protocol firsthand. 

I got my positive test results while staying in Villa Clara, a province about three hours from Havana. In the United States, COVID patients have to seek out tests on their own, deal with expensive insurance and bills, and find their own transportation to healthcare facilities. In Cuba, within a few hours of taking a positive rapid test I was visited by a doctor who gave me a PCR test, checked my symptoms, and completed a detailed account of my whereabouts since my arrival for contract-tracing purposes. 

Free, quality healthcare is guaranteed to all Cuban citizens and even foreigners like myself. In the United States by contrast, seeing a doctor is costly and tests are difficult to access. In New Orleans where I live, PCR tests are almost exclusively available at drive-through pharmacies. After being exposed to COVID-19 in the United States this past February, I walked for 30 minutes to my nearest drive-through PCR test and was refused a test because I was on foot. 

For the next five days after testing positive, I was visited daily by doctors who checked my vitals, asked me questions about symptoms, and asked if there was anything I needed. My case was mild, but for someone dealing with more serious COVID symptoms or complications, this thorough and persistent care could make the difference between life and death. In fact, Cuba’s mortality rate rate for positive COVID cases is 0.77%, significantly lower than 1.1% in the United States – that means that someone who contracts COVID in the United States is about 40 percent more likely to die than someone who gets the disease in Cuba. 

Despite my patchy Spanish, doctors, nurses, and workers at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) did everything they could to communicate effectively with me. Despite all the difficulties the country is experiencing because of the U.S. blockade, I was provided with three delicious, home cooked meals per day in addition to tea and bottled water. Several friendly workers at ICAP visited me every day, at a distance and with PPE. I was scared to spend isolation in an unfamiliar place, but they consistently made up the best parts of my day.

Quality medical care did not prevent me from feeling isolated and anxious, but everyone providing me with care took my mental health into consideration as well, and did everything they could to cheer me up. One morning when I was feeling down, the ICAP workers invited me to sit at a distance outside with them and chat and have coffee. They took turns sharing stories of their experiences with COVID and told me about their lives, and soon enough my anxiety was replaced by the warm, cheerful feeling of community.

Continue reading this article at Liberation News…

Maternity homes in Cuba: A story of human-centered care

by Melina Ivanchikova
reprinted from Liberation News
Sept. 7, 2022

[Note: although this article is dated Sept. 7, it describes the experiences of the author who was in Cuba in July, predating the Matanzas fire, as part of a delegation of activists delivering the first shipment of medicines to Cuba on behalf of the Hatuey Project.]

Vitamins for Villa Clara
Activists bringing medical supplies for Cuban maternity homes

I traveled to Cuba for the first time this past July, with a group of anti-blockade activists to learn about the revolution and the people. Given the severe challenges due to the U.S. economic blockade, we also brought medical supplies destined for the island’s maternity homes. I asked questions about maternity care in Cuba and shared the painful story of my first son’s birth and my frustrating and illogical 10-day separation from him in hospital. The visceral realization of what human-centered instead of profit-centered care is like, and how my experience should have been different, hit home. 

Our itinerary included a visit to a maternity home in Santa Clara. But out of caution, our group was not able to tour the home because a member of our group tested positive for COVID-19. She was isolated and well cared for during that time. Instead, the doctors and nurses from a nearby clinic came to visit us where we were staying. They had the opportunity to describe their work, answer our questions and accept our donations, a small gesture of solidarity against the blockade. In spite of supply shortages, the maternal homes continue to provide a high-level of care. The unrelenting and punishing U.S. blockade chokes Cuba’s ability to replenish non-renewable and necessary supplies like those we brought with us in extra 50-pound suitcases full of prenatal vitamins, acetaminophen, yeast infection medicines, and more. We were happy to deliver the medical donations provided to us by the Hatuey Project.

I shared my story and asked what it would have been like for me to give birth in Cuba. My first son was born with a small hole in his lung and admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit for 10 days. The pinhole in my son’s lung closed over night, but he went on to suffer two apnea episodes that lengthened his stay in the NICU, in the hospital located an hour by car from our home. I was exhausted after a 23-hour labor and difficult birth. Despite the importance of fostering the mother-infant bond and such things as skin-to-skin infant-parent bonding advertised on posters in any maternity ward, this was difficult to achieve in a hospital setting where we were separated from each other. I was reduced to visitor status within two days, the standard discharge time in American hospitals. In Cuba, we would both have been cared for and kept together as long as needed, one of the doctors told me.

With the triumph of the revolution came the effort to liberate women from the social and economic repression of the past. In 1962 the first pilot-program for maternity homes was established as a comprehensive center for maternal care to support rural women’s health, and later expanded to serving any woman with a high-risk pregnancy who needed the support the centers could offer.

Pregnancy homes were established shortly after the revolution to address a problem not unique to Cuba: the need to provide necessary prenatal medical care to women with high-risk pregnancies who lived far from the nearest hospital. It was also a trend in many African and Latin American countries facing similar challenges. High-risk conditions include having had a previous caesarean section, previous fetal death, previous underweight birth, uterine rupture, multiples and more.

Vitamin donation to Villa Clara
Medical staff in Villa Clara receiving donations of vitamins for maternity homes

Continue reading this article at Liberation News…