The demands of the Cuban population are not few in the face of the shortages caused by the economic crisis that the island is currently going through.
The Cuban people are facing one of the most vile attacks from the United States in the midst of a media war and a campaign to discredit the revolutionary government and even the denying a blockade exists by minimizing its name to embargo while twisting the word “affectation” to “ineptitude” of the Cuban state.
At a press conference, executives of BioCubaFarma, Medsol and AICA laboratories described the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for more than sixty years as a real, genocidal and inhumane attack.
“We have been subjected to the blockade for many years, but it really intensified significantly in the last 2 years. Financial persecution increased significantly and that is what is affecting us most today, making transactions to and from Cuba, paying suppliers increasingly difficult,” denounced Tania Urquiza Rodríguez, vice-president of BioCubaFarma.
“The blockade is affecting the production of medicines and is also affecting our people, because the medicines are basically dedicated to the national health system to respond to the treatments required by patients. Our people are suffering”.
The blockade is real, genocidal and inhumane because in the end it is affecting the people, the medicines we produce go to the population, and even if we don’t want it to, that effect will be there”, said the vice-president of BioCubaFarma.
Many of the raw materials and ingredients for the production of medicines are purchased in China or India, but Cuba could acquire much closer it in its geographic area.
“As a result of the blockade we can’t. It has happened to us that even in China we have to use intermediaries. Using intermediaries in India with the amount of supplies we bring from them makes all operations more expensive”, explained Urquiza together with Maité Diéguez, Deputy Director of the company Medsol and Antonio Vallin, general director of Laboratorios AICA.
Antonio Vallin acknowledged before the national and foreign media that a lack of 35 drugs in AICA’s production line is serious and grave, taking into account that several of them are cytostatic type, “they are widely used in children with cancer and therefore have a very high level of sensitivity, some blood derivatives that are also used in children” and others of those 35 drugs are essential use for the treatment of cancer.
“Even if we take internal measures – to substitute imports – we will not be able to, because there are more than 10 thousand items that we need for the production of medicines: raw materials, packaging material, there are more than 5 thousand reagents that we have to guarantee to be able to produce, release the batches and comply with procedures of good practices. The blockade is always there, we try to minimize it, but the impact is real”, explained the vice-president of BioCubaFarma.
Complex situation at BioCubaFarma, a leading Cuban biotechnology company
BioCubaFarma produces more than a thousand products (currently 996), 80% of which are dedicated to the national health system.
This Cuban company is responsible for producing 369 medicines for the basic health system, of which 142 were out of stock on a monthly average at the end of the first half of this year.
“Since 2021 we have been dragging along a very complex situation, last year most of the financing was dedicated to the production of medicines for the confrontation of Covid and for the research and development and production of vaccines against Covid-19.”
BioCubaFarma and AICA laboratories began 2022 with a significant shortage of supplies, the unavailability of raw materials and packaging materials to produce medicines,” said the vice-president of the Cuban biotechnology company.
“The situation is really very complex, the fundamental cause of this shortage is not being able to count on raw materials, packaging materials, reagents and other inputs that are necessary for the production of the basic medicines,” Urquiza pointed out.
The international market for pharmaceutical materials has changed since the pandemic and the international financial crisis. Delivery times are extremely long, there are some manufacturers who have stopped producing and BioCubaFarma has had to resort to evaluating other manufacturers or other suppliers.
“It is necessary to finance in advance the production of some raw materials and once the manufacturer receives that financing it is put into production. The complex situation of international logistics remains, it is very difficult to bring raw materials both by air and by sea, problems persist with shipping companies,” he said.
BioCubaFarma has more than 120 raw materials -or base materials- that are already financed, 54 of them have been financed since 2021 but have not yet arrived in Cuba even though the suppliers have the financing in their hands.
To these difficulties must be added the refusal of some shipping companies to work with Cuba along with the problems with the leasing of containers that trade with U.S. companies.
The persecution or financial siege of Cuban companies is one of the aggravating factors in the attempt to asphyxiate the Cuban economy and its people.
“At this time there are some payments made by our importing company FarmaCuba, which has more than 10,000 items and is fundamentally responsible for importing all the inputs for the production of medicines for the national health system. These operations have been rejected just for having the name of FarmaCuba on it because the banks are pressured by the sanctions or are afraid of receiving fines or penalties for making transactions with our country.”
“Our foreign currency has not been able to obtain or dedicate to the production of medicines. BioCubaFarma made some exports of not insignificant amounts that we could have dedicated to the production of medicines, however, due to the financial siege and persecution those foreign currencies have not been able to enter the country”.
There are many examples of the financial siege used against Cuban companies like the gas used for the production of spray medicines for asthmatics. The raw materials acquired in India through third countries are 30% more expensive than paying directly to the country of origin of the raw materials.
This gas is transported in large tanks, isotanks or bales, which have geopositioning (Gps) on them and are visible in location and route to Cuba because they are classified as hazardous cargo.
BioCubaFarma began working on alternatives to bring Z134a gas to Cuba. “At the moment this raw material is being contracted in China.” Every month a ship will sail from the distant Asian country to the Caribbean to bring the Z134a gas and guarantee the production of the spray drugs.
Each trip of this ship will guarantee – for example – 30 days of coverage of salbutamol, necessary for the Cuban population, which is characterized of having a high rate of asthmatic patients.
“We cannot understand how we are so close to two North American companies and we could have those bullets in a week, maximum 15 days to reach Cuba, but instead we have to bring them from China,” reflected Tania Urquiza Rodríguez.
Cuba to guarantee covering the asthmatic population with salbutamol spray resorted to buying the drug in Europe. “Around 3 million dollars have been spent to supply the country” -with the salbutamol spray-to 530 thousand patients registered as asthmatic in the Cuban health system. Those are 3 million dollars that we could have spent on other medicines, because the production cost is really much lower”, Rodriguez clarified.
Regarding the delivery of the product acquired in Europe for asthmatic patients, she affirmed that they are already in Cuban ports and will be distributed to cover the demand for the last weeks of July and the first two weeks of August. But then the cycle starts all over again.
Salbutamol for asthmatic patients will be imported from Europe to Cuba until the country can have access to the raw material (134a gas) for domestic production at a much lower cost; as it has been done for more than 20 years.
Suppliers cancel contracts with Cuba
The impossibility of acquiring reagents for Cuba “is affecting us now to be able to diagnose some diseases in the clinical laboratories of the Minsap, with these reagents blood tests, platelet count, dengue diagnosis, cell distinction and other microbiological analysis that are performed on the population”.
“We have an import substitution plan we are developing with ten excipients with the national industry to at least substitute those ten common excipients in several raw materials, to connect ourselves with the national industry and at least those ten we will not have to import, contributing to the development and autonomy of the country”, stated the vice-president of BioCubaFarma as an alternative to alleviate the crisis in the import of raw materials.
AICA is responsible for essentially manufacturing products of top necessity for the Cuban health system; almost all injectables, eye drops, cytostatic drugs and a part of the production of serums and hemoderivative drugs.
“We are responsible for the manufacture of 197 generic injectable products, we have an important contribution to the basic picture of patients in serious and critical condition,” explained Antonio Vallin, general director of Laboratorios AICA.
With 1,800 workers and 16 production lines, so far this year only 12 of the production lines have been operating without interruption. The remaining productions have been affected by a shortage of raw materials or containers -mainly glass.
AICA has the only glass ampoule factory in the country with a production capacity of more than 100 million physical units per year. “Of the five manufacturing lines we have, we work only between two and three lines throughout the year, we have had no packaging material due to financial and logistical problems worldwide,” he said.
According to Antonio Vallin, “the glass issue is extremely complex”. As a result of Covid, the production of vaccines “hijacked” not only the existing glass but also the manufacturing capacities of major suppliers worldwide for which funding should have been in place since 2020 for the production of the ampoules needed today.
“Despite that, with a level of creativity and innovation of our engineers, workers and the contribution of other companies the production lines do not stop, last month we supplied 160 medicines,” said Vallin, who also confirmed in this press conference that for this month 165 medicines will be supplied in a stable manner.
“We have had a production of serums extremely glued to the consumption of the country, which has put a strain on the entire public health system, both in hospitals, polyclinics and has forced us to work under a state of stress in the entire health system”.
In the production plants, “the only thing that has saved us from disaster is the intention to put money into the basic, minimum and indispensable, and the will of the workers”.
The extreme insecurity in some production lines due to the inability to reinvest and recapitalize every year in the production lines is another of the evils generated by the worsening of the blockade.
“We are concerned about the long-term maintenance of the lines,” said the director of AICA. The automation systems or pumping systems are based on North American components. According to Vallin, manufacturers say: “I can give you the component but you have no access to the programming so all that goes through you, or I can’t even give you the component”.
The fact that an automation system contains something as simple as a Windows system cannot be acquired by Cuba because it has a 10% of a North American component in it. AICA laboratories reacted to this by working with companies from the scientific sector or small micro and SME’s that are nowadays inserted in the scientific and biotechnological field.
This collaboration between Cuban companies has allowed the development of AICA’s systems and equipment automation base, which in the last three years has included almost 27 extremely complex pieces of equipment, but everything for Cuba is an end around process just to function.
BioCubaFarma has a highly committed, prepared and specialized human capital. According to its directors, the company has all the infrastructure to be able to produce; it is vital despite the financial situation and the fact that supplies do not arrive on time.
“Basically, what affects us most today is the unavailability of raw materials and packaging materials to be able to produce”, concluded Tania Urquiza, vice-president of the leading Cuban biotechnology company.
The struggle continues to provide all the needed medicines with Cuban determination and commitment.
By Yaimi Ravelo on July 19, 2022 from Havana
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