For the Welfare of the People of US and Cuba – Cooperation in Health Treatments Must Accelerate

During the last months, there has been an upward trend in bilateral exchanges between Cuba and the United States. Several delegations of government officials, congressmen, senators, and businessmen have visited the island, something not seen since the Obama administration. It is a positive sign that matches most people’s desires in both nations, so there is no logical justification for not moving forward quickly.

While it is true that there are many issues on the agenda whose technical or historical complexity prevents rapid progress, but there are others we cannot be satisfied with small advances. Heath and environmental cooperation are perhaps the two most obvious issues since there are bilateral mechanisms to foster them, which means significant mutual benefits in the short term.

The most recent U.S. delegation that visited Cuba was made up of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI)’s board of directors. The prestigious medical institution in Buffalo New York that has been working with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) for some time now to improve and find new treatments for cancer, especially lung cancer, since Cuban scientists have already developed a vaccine for it.

The visit took place on January 24, after the RPCI was informed about the extension until 2027 of the license that allows it to cooperate with Cuba. In 2018, both centers formed a joint venture. It was called Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance S.A. and intended to research, produce and commercialize new cancer treatments in both countries. The intensity of the cooperation declined considerably during the Trump administration but has recently begun to slowly rebound.

The license renewal is excellent news that could make the difference between life and death for thousands of people. However, it also raises two troubling questions. How can something as sensitive as Americans’ access to a cancer vaccine depend on a license? And why is cooperation in the health field still restricted to this very specific area when the Cuban bio-pharmaceutical industry has proven to be successful in many other sectors?

Roswell Park Cancer Institute

The first question has a clear and simple answer: there is a commercial, financial and economic blockade designed to collapse the Cuban socialist project, regardless of the costs that this may have for  US citizens themselves. For example, lung cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, where some 200,000 cases are diagnosed annually, and some 130,000 patients die because of it.  Shouldn’t this reason alone be enough to lift any restriction in this area? While the signs of bi lateral, mutually beneficial projects seem to be proceeding, political interests still get to set the pace and impede the process over the American people’s health.

Therefore, something so sensitive that should work naturally finds obstacles instead of fast track implementation. A license is nothing but a patch that can be withdrawn at any time, as it is very sensitive to political shifts. The most glaring example of this was the Trump administration not renewing several of the licenses allowing cooperation with Cuba, while in other cases, it put obstacles equivalent to a suspension, as was the case of the recently renewed RPCI license.

In addition to the vaccine against lung cancer, Cuba has developed effective treatments for prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in the United States. Cuban scientists also developed Herberprot-P, a unique-in-the-world drug, to cure diabetic foot ulcers. There is something criminal about the reality that over 70,000 Americans have leg amputations per year; something Heberprot – P could eliminate but it is not available in the US.

Beyond the blockade, cooperation in health matters between the two countries is at a standstill because the corporate health system in the US from pharmaceuticals conglomerates to profit driven hospitals get to dictate who receives healthcare and who doesn’t.

Unlike Cuba, the large pharmaceutical oligopolies exert enormous pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to limit competition. It means Cuban treatments threaten big corporations’ profits because they are much cheaper than their U.S. counterparts in most cases and are accessible to all based on need not what you can pay.

Once again, in this context guaranteeing the health of millions of people takes a back seat to profits. These are the real obstacles to greater cooperation between the two countries and the reason why everything in this sector works so slowly, despite the undeniable benefits it could bring.

The citizens of both countries have a human right to demand what is best for their welfare, for instance, quick progress in this area. The extension of the license to RPCI has to be the first of many joint projects related to health care.

Despite this developement’s political relevance, it shows how much can be done to benefit both peoples if the U.S. side reorders its priorities and puts people’s health and welfare ahead of the pockets of the corporate elites. We cannot be content with a slow marathon when what is needed is a 100 yard dash; lives are in the balance.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – US